Thursday’s borough assembly work session was one of the most productive of the year. The meeting kicked off with a semi-formal report by the marijuana taskforce, whose recommendations shortly will come before the assembly for adoption. One of its members, Johnathan Strong, in remarks to the assembly noted that marijuana use is still a federal crime and that it is unclear as to the extent that the new administration will allow states to experiment with legalization, as this is a violation of federal statutes.
The borough engineer gave a detailed report on work-in-progress on the construction of the new Chiniak Tsunami Center. Funding is settled, and currently the center is in-design with some challenges still left to be decided (specifics of which were identified in the engineer’s talk). If there are no major project issues, construction on the center could begin this summer. After hearing the report, one came away with the feeling that the borough staff was on top of this project and that it is actively being managed.
A major segment of time was spent discussing an ongoing borough code revision that would allow new residential construction that fundamentally does not meet any building code. Which of course is one way to simplify our building codes — just have none. However, building codes are multifaceted, one facet being that they are complex, and sometimes overly so. For example, currently there are some 15 “i-codes”: examples being the Int’l. Building Code, the Int’l. Energy Conservation Code, the Int’l. Private Sewage Disposal Code, the Int’l. Property Maintenance Code, etc. And they all cite one another, making it difficult for anyone but a building official to understand certain sections; and there is likely no source on this island that has a complete set of these documents. The borough’s previous adoption of the Uniform Building Code (UBC) recognized certain basic designs (follow these simple requirements and your design is acceptable), whereas the city’s/borough’s subsequent adoption of the 2012 International Residential Code has a propensity to now require a civil engineer’s stamp for building officials to accept essentially the same design: in short, unnecessary and expensive overkill.
Another important facet of codes is that they provide safety for the neighbors. For example, presently one is not allowed to construct a residence in the borough (within one mile of the road system) that does not meet fire code: either the 2012 Uniform Fire Code (written by code officials beginning in 2000) or the more rigorous National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 1 Fire Code, initially written in the late 1800s by fire industry officials (e.g., underwriting firms, fire insurance companies, fire departments, manufacturing associations, engineering associations, trade associations, trade unions, testing laboratories, recognized standards bodies, and alike).
So the overriding question is, should the borough have building codes beyond those minimally necessary (e.g., having backflow preventer devices on all properties being served by our public water purveyor)?
In the end, whether or not to have building codes pits the rights of individuals (property owners) who want to build “whatever” on their property against the rights of their neighbors to be protected from individuals who construct dwellings that pose a credible risk or nuisance to their neighbors. In the end, this is not an easy call. And the assembly might do well to call a town hall meeting to engage the public in discussion before the assembly formally votes on this question.
A final issue at the meeting was a possible town hall meeting in Kodiak with state engineers on Jan. 10 regarding the Otmeloi Way paving project. Although the borough itself is responsible for “… the planning, design, and construction…” of this project, lately they have largely abrogated this responsibility by deflecting citizen questions and critical comments to our state representatives and the state engineering department. As described, apparently the January meeting just would be more of the same.
All of which, of course, is just my opinion.