Another public hearing for private bridges

Well, I was wrong when I said county commissioners would decide on Tuesday what to do about requirements for private bridges.

The decision was on the meeting agenda, but commissioners couldn’t figure out what exactly they were voting on. I’d fault county staff members for only writing a nine-page ordinance, but I’ve sat in plenty of meetings when staff members are faulted for being too wordy so I don’t blame them for erring on the side of being concise.

Commissioners were also thrown off by a recommendation by the Clark County Planning Commission. That advisory board suggested new bridges be a minimum of 12-feet-wide with curbs (but no rails). The BOCC had wanted new bridges to be 16-feet-wide, no curbs, no rails.

I’ve never driven a vehicle wider than my Toyota RAV-4, but I’d think curbs would be appreciated.

At any rate, another public hearing has been set for Tuesday, May 29.

If you are not among the residents who access an estimated 679 privately-owned bridges to get to your residence, consider yourself lucky. Clark County Fire District 3 Chief Steve Wrightson and Fire District 10 Chief Gordon Brooks both testified that questionable bridges impact their ability to respond in an emergency.

Wrightson said his employees try to use a Chevy Tahoe to respond to medical emergencies, but when there’s a structure fire, “you need the whole tool kit.”

A recent court ruling went in favor of fire departments, saying agencies don’t have to risk going across a privately-owned bridge that has not been inspected and rated.

“We really don’t want to tell people, ‘We can’t respond to your emergency,'” Wrightson said. On the other hand, they can’t risk collapsing a bridge with a 60,000-pound water tender.

Brooks added that he thought the committee that came up with the proposal, which included fire officials, developers, engineers and other interested parties, worked well together and people were able to see other points of view.

Commissioners, however, have been reluctant to require developers or homeowners to pay to have bridges inspected and rated. If homeowners want to risk the chance emergency vehicles won’t cross the bridge and they’ll have to wait while equipment gets run up to the home, that’s fine.

As a compromise, existing bridges won’t need to be upgraded unless additional homes are built, and even then homeowners could instead choose to install sprinklers.

Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Chris Horne cautioned commissioners about using the word “grandfathered,” however. Bridges that are “grandfathered,” doesn’t mean that fire departments have to cross them if they have not been inspected and rated. It only means that a substandard bridge won’t be referred to code enforcement.

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