No construction rules in Kootenai County? What could go wrong?

Republican Kootenai County Commissioners have been threatening to hang a "Why Bother?" sign on the county building codes. Maybe "Don't Tread On Me" will hang there, too.

So just what is a building code anyway? Engineer Jim Meckel gave me the simplest explanation: Building codes are the minimum — and he stresses minimum — requirements for the structural integrity of a building.

In December 2017, the Board of Commissioners held a routine vote on endorsing the update of the International Building Code (IBC), which had already been adopted by the state of Idaho.

In a show of defiance, two members of the Kootenai County Board, Bob Bingham and Marc Eberlein, voted no on the motion. The third commissioner, Chris Filios, voted yes to adopt the standard code.

Please know this is not a united revolt. The two commissioners voting to not accept the building codes, Bingham and Eberlein, do not agree on alternatives. Each offers his own option.

Bingham, an incumbent commissioner, is introducing an "Opt-Out Program" for residences on 5-acre or larger rural parcels without a building code inspection system. I take it that means the folks who own a 5-acre lot in the countryside could follow the building codes — or then again maybe they wouldn't. And who would choose to be inspected if they didn't have to?

Commissioner Bingham's position paper states: "At the core of this is personal freedom. Our founding fathers formed our governmental structure to be limited. When government mandates itself into our home without an invitation, it crosses a boundary."

Reportedly, Commissioner Eberlein has a version — and vision — to make all building codes entirely voluntary. His position paper states: "Many folks moving to Idaho expected to escape California's excessive rules..."

Neither option would impact Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls, Hayden Lake or other cities within the county, just the wide open spaces of the county that have not yet been covered with houses.

This show of late 18th century individualism is definitely stirring the political pot. After the deadline for filing for office passed on Friday, March 9, it was revealed that the two incumbents and five other people have filed to run for the two Kootenai County Commission spots. Six Republicans and one brave Democrat.

Are the candidates running for office to stop the rout on the building codes, or do they want to cause further damage? The Democrat, Ruben Miranda, has already announced he opposes the Eberlein-Bingham building code revolt.

We have also been told that Idaho is the fastest growing state in the union, and that Kootenai is the fastest growing county in Idaho. With the hordes knocking at the door to get in, is this a time to forget about standards?

The third county commissioner, Chris Filios, supports keeping the codes in place as they have been for years and years. Filios, a realtor, goes beyond the "if-it's-not-broke-don't-fix-it" stance. He's concerned about the negative impact for individuals if the codes are not in place. Worries about bank loans and insurance might spoil the fun of doing just whatever you damn well please.

Lots of words spouting pros and cons have been recorded as this kerfuffle unfolds. (Maybe we should call it a Coeurfuffle?) Tom Torgerson, president of the Coeur d'Alene Association of Realtors, says in the Coeur d'Alene Press that his group supports remaining in compliance with updated codes. He says he has been contacted by worried engineers, surveyors and architects — all the on-the-ground folks who understand the complexities of construction.

The pro-code line is getting longer: Timberlake Fire Protection District Fire Chief Bill Steele was also quoted in support saying building code and fire code go hand in hand for the public safety.

Sharon Bosley, executive director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, has written an environmental response to the code confusion, pointing out that up-to-date energy efficiencies are saving homeowners real dollars. One example: "Comparing 2012 code to 2006 code shows a 50 percent savings of the cost of heating, lighting and cooling of homes," she writes. Saving energy saves money.

Bosley also stated concern that codeless buildings might further endanger local lakes as people would be more apt to build without obtaining a site disturbance permit or pay attention to the 25-foot setback from the water.

Another environmentalist pointed out that the current county commissioners don't enforce current regulations pertaining to site disturbance or setbacks, not to mention code infractions. "Why worry about codes," she asked, "when no one is enforcing them anyway?"

Good question, but sad.

Late after a crowded public hearing Monday night, March 19, two Republican commissioners, Bob Bingham and Marc Eberlein, agreed to a compromise that will allow all single-family residential and duplex building plans to opt out of complying with the state-approved building codes. This will not affect building within the city limits of Coeur d' Alene, Post Falls, Rathdrum, or any other city in Kootenai County. To his credit, the third Commissioner, Chris Filios, voted against the action.

Nevertheless, the final decision on the anti-building code issue will be settled by Kootenai County voters at the general election in November. ♦

EDITOR'S NOTE: This column has been updated since the print version of the story that appeared in the March 22 issue.

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