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Walworth County pools still working to adapt pools to federal mandate

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
June 14, 2009

Walworth County hotels and resorts still are scrambling to adapt their pool drainage systems to comply with a federal mandate that went into effect six months ago.


The Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act was signed into law and became effective in January. It requires the owners of public and private pools to have anti-entrapment drain covers to prevent small children from getting stuck to the bottom of pools by the powerful suction of some drainage systems.


But government officials and business owners cite lack of parts as one of the main reasons why several hotels still are working to get their pools adjusted to the regulation.


Kenneth Walz, a public health sanitarian at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said only about four companies manufacture the necessary parts.


“As far as scaling the manufacturing … it just wasn’t physically possible to do all of the pools throughout the country,” Walz said.


And finding parts isn’t the only obstacle hotels are facing to comply with the federal mandate.


Trisha Pugal, president and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association, said there also is the challenge of paying for the changes finding workers to make the modifications.


Wisconsin projects have cost lodging companies thousands of dollars, with the most expensive reported repair to date at $41,000, she said.


Finding available engineers and companies to do the work also is a challenge.


“It’s a matter of getting past all the barriers,” Pugal said. “We have been advised that as long as properties are doing their best to get into compliance, there isn’t much more they can do.”


Tammie Davies-Carstensen, general manager at Best Western Harbor Shores in Lake Geneva, said her pools are now in compliance.


But the business struggled when fixing their pools.


“When you call the state of Wisconsin, they didn’t even have all the information as to what we were supposed to be doing,” Davies-Carstensen said.


Karen Beckman, of the Bailey House Bed and Breakfast in Williams Bay, said they are still working on getting their pool to comply with the mandate.


“The pool is not being used,” Beckman said. “It’s open, but we’re not using it.”


Beckman said she has an engineer working on the pool and has had no problems finding parts.


But what happens if a hotel fails to comply and an accident happens?


Brooks Chase is the president and chief executive officer of the Virginia-based Resort Hotel Association, a member-owned non-profit that insures resorts and hotels throughout the nation.


He said businesses could be held liable for accidents while they are working to comply with the federal mandate, but they would still be covered by their insurance policies.


Chase compared the situation with a bathtub slip and fall, when companies are held responsible for the incident but still have coverage.


“We understand that there is such a backlog … that the swimming pool industry is unable to meet the demand for this,” Chase said. “It doesn’t change their insurance policies, but what we’ve asked is to retro-fit their pools as soon as they are able to, recognizing there are limitations when it comes to parts.”



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