Alta council okays pool waivers on split vote

Friday, June 12, 2020

In a special meeting Tuesday, the Alta council discussed regulating residential pools in the city, eventually voting 3-2 to allow waivers for the summer of 2020, as the city works toward updating the code before next spring.

Currently, city code requires six feet fences around pools for safety, but officials admit the regulation is vaguely worded. Also, reportedly, a former code enforcement officer had told some residents they could put up pools without the fencing.

“I don’t think anyone would feel good if we got the homeowner to sign off [on a waiver] and God forbid something happens,” Mayor Kevin Walsh told the council. “On the other hand, where do you draw the line? And we’re not the city police.”

While there are currently only a few in-ground pools in the city, others have above-ground, inflatable, portable or wading pools. The council struggled to find a solution that would cover them all.

Member Les Mann felt the city needed policy consistency to protect citizens, and was concerned that the city and the property owner could get sued if there is an accident under a waiver policy.

Council member Wes Bunjes, who is in the process of putting in a pool himself, felt that it is common sense for anyone putting in a pool to put up safety fencing.

Concerns over COVID-19 led to the situation, council member Pam Henderson suggested. She said she didn’t think the city pool would be able to open at all this summer, which may cause more people to want to install pools at their own homes.

“As a 65 year old person I have to take it on myself to be safe for myself,” she said, referring to the outbreak, and with or without an ordinance the Alta property owners have to take responsibility for their own decisions in the sam fashion.

One council member noted there had been two drownings the previous weekend in Iowa.

City officials had been able to find no rules in the Iowa Code that apply to residential pools, as there are for public facilities. City Clerk Megan Peterson said that if people are told they can’t have a pool, they will expect to be shown such rules in writing.

Mayor Walsh said Alta’s existing code is so vague that the issue probably wouldn’t have been brought up by residents. “Now that it has been brought to our attention, we have to do something… We want to try to work with the people who put these in. I’m not 100 percent comfortable with the waiver, but I can live with it if the council chooses to do it.”

The council also briefly discussed whether residents should be required to drain pools when not in use. For those with larger pools, it would probably be too expensive to drain and refill them daily, the mayor said.

The council even wrestled with how to define a pool, with some feeling that any water feature over 18 inches deep should be subject to regulation.

They wondered whether Storm Lake has a policy, and felt that with King’s Pointe water park closed, their larger neighbor is probably having similar issues.

The council was also concerned that if residents were told to disregard fencing regulation by a former code officer of the city, they would be angry if they are told now that they must take pools down.

“We don’t want a bunch of people mad at us,” one said.

After agreeing to allow waiver agreements for this summer only, city officials said that if residents with pools that are not protected by fences decline to sign an agreement, the pools will need to be taken out. The city will mail notices to residents about the waiver policy.

There was some concern on how to enforce the policy, as no one has specific numbers and locations of where pools are being used.

Bunjes suggested that one of the three who voted in favor of waivers could drive around the city to count them.

In other council business this week:

• The council approved the hiring of Sonny Sird at $150 an hour to help take down dead and dying ash trees, as the city continues to see the impact of emerald ash borer infestation. With that hire, there will be three companies operating in the city this season, each at one to two days a week, trying to keep up with the situation.

• Flow meters were approved for a study of wastewater backup in the Lake Street area. The city had previously tried cutting tree roots away from sewer lines, using telescoping cameras and using dye in the water to find out why stormwater is infiltrating sanitary sewers, without any clear answers.