|By Jake Spring, The Sun News, Myrtle
Beach, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 09, 2010--The city of Myrtle Beach filed a lawsuit against 11 hotels for using pool enclosures that violate federal regulations, according to court documents.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave the city until Nov. 1 to comply with a regulation prohibiting hard-structure pool enclosures from being used in the floodplain because of potential danger during hurricanes, when the enclosures could be swept away and injure people or damage property.
Myrtle Beach risks losing its eligibility for the National Flood Insurance Program if properties continue to violate the rule, and if that happens, homeowners in the floodplain along the coast could also lose their coverage.
Without being part of the program, flood insurance within the floodplain is extremely difficult to get, and extremely expensive when it is approved.
The city filed the lawsuit in a federal court in Florence on Friday, five days after FEMA's deadline.
"FEMA's rule is in place. Not to enforce it could jeopardize flood insurance for Myrtle Beach's residents. That's just not something the city could do," city spokesman Mark Kruea said.
Operators at the 11 properties could not be reached for comment.
Federal law prohibits communities in the National Flood Insurance Program from using hard-structure pool enclosures -- often made of glass -- in the floodplain. Myrtle Beach hotels have been using such enclosures for more than 30 years, but FEMA did not raise safety concerns until 2007. The city changed its ordinances in April to reflect FEMA's rules.
In October, the city identified 34 properties using the pool enclosures and sent Construction Services Department staff members to check for compliance. Staff members also checked for compliance last week after FEMA's deadline passed, court documents say.
Kruea said 23 properties, which are not named in the lawsuit, have come into compliance. Several of those hotels replaced their hard enclosures with vinyl or Plexiglas.
But some did not.
The following hotel properties are named as violators in the lawsuit: Atlantica Resort, The Windsurfer, Captain's Quarters, Dunes Village I, Dunes Village II, The Palace Motel, The Patricia Grand, Meridian Plaza, Monterey Bay, Sea Crest Resort and Coral Beach Resort.
The lawsuit does not give details on the infractions beyond stating that each property "has a glass or plastic pool enclosure that violates the Code of Ordinances."
The city wants the court to issue an injunction and declare that the hotels are not compliant, according to court filings.
Myrtle Beach also asks the court to award costs or other relief that is "just and proper."
The goal of filing the lawsuit is bring all floodplain properties into compliance, Kruea said. He said he expects the lawsuit will be dropped against those properties that do meet the rule.
Construction Services will continue to check on the properties named in the lawsuit, Kruea said.
Hotel operators say the enclosures have long been essential to attracting tourists in the winter.
City officials and business leaders had hoped Congress would pass a law allowing the enclosures. The House of Representatives passed such a bill in July, but the Senate did not act in time for the Nov. 1 deadline.
FEMA representatives have said the agency seeks to avoid unnecessary danger if a hurricane strikes while the enclosures are in place.
"Both our many years of experience and building science prove that lives can be saved and damage can be reduced when floodplain management is enforced by local jurisdictions," FEMA spokeswoman Jody Cottrill said in a written statement in October.
FEMA had no immediate plans for a follow-up visit to check for compliance, she said at the time.
Frans Mustert, president and chief executive of Oceana Resorts, which oversees The Patricia Grand, said in late October he would continue to hold out for a legislative fix. The covers aren't a clear danger because they are mostly used after hurricane season has already passed, he said.
"It's unbelievable our government agencies can't be more reasonable," he said at the time.
Contact JAKE SPRING at 626-0310.
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