I-Team: Board rejects plans for new pool regulations

LAS VEGAS - A plan that could have caused the closure of hundreds of swimming pools in southern Nevada has been shelved by the board of health.

Nearly 200 from homeowner associations and apartment complexes showed up Thursday to express opposition to the proposed regulations.

This time, though, they had some high-powered backup.

Chief Health Officer Joseph Iser and his senior staff got a firm rebuke from the board of health and a verbal spanking from a packed house.

"We'd be forced to close our pools and spas and then property values would drop," said Marty Borager, HOA resident.

Residents living in homeowner associations and apartment buildings have opposed the proposals from the beginning. The district wants to force thousands of small pools to install large and expensive equipment. Many of them would likely have to close. The district says there have been terrible health incidents in such pools, but when asked for evidence, couldn't produce any.

Board members asked whether such pools should be considered public under state law. The attorney for the health district admitted she had never asked for a legal opinion on that question. 

This time, the HOA's had help from heavy hitters. Among those lined up to oppose the new regulations as written: The Nevada Resort Association, the home builders, the apartment industry, the Chamber of Commerce, the dayclub industry. All of them are concerned about ambiguities that still exist after years of work and public hearings.

And hanging over the entire hearing was the spectra of tragic incidents at Cowabunga Bay water park, the 2015 non-fatal drowning of 6-year-old Leland Gardner in the park's wave pool, and in the same pool, the death of 8-year-old Daquan Bankston in June -- incidents which exposed glaring failures by district staff to inspect and enforce existing laws, let alone new ones.

Board member Chris Giunchigliani finally addressed the elephant in the room.

"I'll bring up Cowabunga. Staff allowed for fewer lifeguards. The design called for a certain number," Giunchigliani said.

Health chief Joe Iser was quick to jump in to blame parents or guardians for those tragedies.

"We need to re-emphasize the guardian should watch out for them and their own children," he said.

No one disagreed with that observation, but Iser made no mention of the district's own failures at Cowabunga Bay. His inspectors never once visited the park when it was open for business, never asked why only three lifeguards were on duty at the wave pool instead of 17 as required by law, and after the park was caught weeks later, again without enough lifeguards, issued a fine of only $118.

Then, industry-friendly district staffers led the charge to give the park a variance that reduced the required number of lifeguards by two-thirds, without mentioning to the board the Gardner incident had ever happened.

Giunchigliani said, that had she known about Leland, she would never have voted for a variance.

For now, at least, the board said, no way to the new pile of proposed regulations. Staff will have to rework it once again.

The proposed regulations have been re-written and re-submitted to the board's agenda several times in the last few years and now will have to be re-worked once again.

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