Florida law changes pool regulations
May 14, 2012
The following article was published in The Panama City News Herald on May 14, 2012:
State law changes pool regulations
By Felicia Kitzmiller
As hundreds of people suit up and head for community swimming pools this summer, they might not notice anything different, but local regulators will.
House Bill 1263, a state Department of Health reorganization bill, changes the way commercial swimming pools are monitored by local officials. The new law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott on April 27, eliminates redundancy in one part of the permitting process, but adds regulation to equipment changes and upgrades.
Florida’s local building inspectors always have been part of the process for permitting new commercial swimming pools, Bay County building official Larry Carnley said. Before HB 1263, plans first had to approved by engineers with the Department of Health and would then go to local builders’ services departments. Now, building officials will be the only approval needed for new public swimming pools and spas, including those at hotels, parks, condominiums, apartment complexes and other multifamily-use locations.
The economy has brought construction to a crawl and Carnley said in his 15 months with Bay County he estimated plans for about three new pools have crossed his desk.
“It will be minimal additional work,” he said.
The real change is in equipment. If owners of a commercial pool now want to change a pump on a filtration system, they will need to get a permit from their local builders’ services department.
“I won’t say they weren’t required to get a permit before; they just didn’t get them,” Panama City Beach building official Ken Thorndyke said.
Changing or replacing any piece of equipment that alters the operation of a pool will need a permit, but local building officials said they are having trouble defining what it means to change the operation of the pool. The Florida Building Commission is currently in the process of revising codes to provide clarity for local officials. In the meantime, Thorndyke said it would be done on a “case-by-case” basis.
“It’s a learning process, just like all new responsibilities that get dumped in our lap,” he said.
Enforcement carries its own problems, Carnley said. Local building officials have no means of policing upgrades and ensuring everyone has the appropriate permits.
“That’s going to be the breakdown of this whole thing,” he said. “If they don’t contact us, we don’t know. It’s going to be complaint-driven to a large degree.”
Permit fees depend on the type of the project. In Bay County fees start at $29, but double if the owner of a pool is found out of compliance.
The Department of Health still will conduct twice-annual health and safety inspections on Bay County’s 631 public swimming pools and spas, said Joe Scully, water program supervisor at Bay County’s Health Department. Pool owners also still are required to obtain an operational permit from the health department and renew the permit annually. Scully said the health department also will be available to assist building officials with any hydrology or other questions.
Bay County Health Department will not lose personnel as a result of the shift in responsibilities because the department never had its own engineers and instead sent pool plans to Escambia County for approval, Scully said.