FEMA regulations mean big changes for hotels

By Kyle Grainger - bio | email

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - As many as 30 hotels in Myrtle Beach will have to make some changes by September or the entire city could face action by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

On Tuesday, Myrtle Beach City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance that would require all buildings in a flood plain to come into compliance with federal regulations. For years, the city hasn't enforced the codes and some buildings even built permanent structures in areas where they're not allowed.

Now, FEMA has told they city they must force the changes.

"It's sort of like speeding. You can't tell the policeman, 'I've been speeding since Florence, so I shouldn't be cited here,'" said City Manager Tom Leath. "So there really isn't a grandfather provision that would benefit the property owner."

Leath says the changes affect mostly hotels who enclose their pool with a hard temporary wall in the winter.  He says that FEMA would like to see a canvas or plastic type enclosure, one that would break away if there were a big wind or rise in sea water.

"FEMA is saying, 'We don't care if they're temporary, they're not allowed.' You cannot put those back up," Leath added. "You can put up soft structures, bubbles, plastic, canvas, that sort of thing, but you can't put these hard structures. Even though they're temporary, they're not allowed."

A move could affect hotel workers like James Stewart. He oversees the pool area at the Ocean Reef Resort. Managers at the Ocean Reef say that without a pool in the winter, guests may go to other hotels, and that means there won't be a reason to staff as many employees.

"If there's no pool, they don't need me," said Stewart.

Hotel owners, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Myrtle Beach have tried to convince FEMA and federal lawmakers to change the rules, but have had no luck.

The city plans to meet with property owners individually and explain to them what the problems are with their area. The city's current version of the ordinance gives owners until September 15 to come into compliance. City council still must take one more vote on the measure.

FEMA is giving the city until November 2010 to come into compliance with federal rules.

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