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Rules on building debris sought

A county commissioner proposes an ordinance to compel builders to secure loose construction materials before a hurricane strikes.

Published July 5, 2005

BROOKSVILLE - Take a spin through Hernando County and you're sure to find piles of construction material, debris and equipment - the signs of a healthy building industry.

But County Commissioner Diane Rowden is concerned that those economy-fueling piles could morph into deadly projectiles during a hurricane. So she has proposed an ordinance that would require builders to secure material and equipment when a hurricane threatens.

Last Tuesday, Rowden persuaded her fellow board members to allow the county's Legal Department to develop an ordinance for review. The work is under way.

"The first thing that they tell you is to make sure that you get up any debris in your yard that can be a missile," Rowden said in a recent interview, "yet we say nothing to these contractors."

Laws now on the books require that construction debris be contained in some way, whether in trash bins or by some kind of fencing. What Rowden proposes would go further and is based on an ordinance that West Palm Beach passed June 20.

Under that ordinance, anyone who fails to remove or secure construction materials, equipment and debris from 24 hours after a hurricane watch is issued until the watch is lifted is subject to a $500 fine.

If a licensed contractor is found to have willfully violated the rule, he or she can be barred from receiving permits from the local building office for up to a year.

Bob Eaton, chairman of the Hernando Builders Association's government affairs committee, said contractors already take precautions when storms approach. He chided Rowden for never having met an ordinance she did not like and said the country's founders would "roll over in their graves" at the heavy hand of Hernando County government.

"Why, at every turn, do they need more laws to take more rights and liberties from everybody?" Eaton said. "It has become an epidemic in this county."

Eaton vowed that the builders association's lawyers would become involved if the county attempted to enforce such a law. Instead of more ordinances, he suggested that the county embark on a campaign to educate local builders about how to secure their sites during storms.

A meeting between builders and county emergency management officials to discuss the issue might be fruitful, he said.

The recently enacted ordinance in West Palm Beach was the result of public outcry after last year's hurricanes, said Neil Melick, the city's director of construction services. Residential construction sites posed little problem, he said, but at commercial sites downtown, winds picked up sheets of plywood and carried them for blocks.

Melick said the ordinance faced opposition from builders, but the city ultimately decided that the protection of residents was paramount.

Rowden said she is not aware of wind-propelled construction material causing any damage in Hernando County during the 2004 storm season. Other parts of Florida were not so lucky, she said, and prudence is called for as forecasters predict heightened hurricane activity for the state.

"We can't put on our blinders," she said. "It's our responsibility to try to foresee problems and keep them from happening."

[Last modified July 5, 2005, 01:33:21]

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