CLINTON — A public hearing on a proposed ordinance requiring storm shelters for newly built lots for manufactured and mobile homes sparked debate on necessity and possible discrimination during Monday’s meeting of the Clinton County Board of Supervisors.

Chance Kness, coordinator of Clinton County Emergency Management, initially presented the draft of the ordinance concerning storm shelters for mobile homes on Aug. 10. This ordinance would require new mobile home parks to build a storm shelter, designed by a licensed structural engineer or architect or built in accordance with plans sealed by the structural engineer or architect, with a minimum of 7 square feet for each unit in the park.

Structures would be required to meet all FEMA requirements and be constructed to meet minimum lighting and ventilation laws of the municipality the park is located in. They could be no further than 1,320 linear feet from the farthest manufactured home space.

During Monday’s meeting Chairman Dennis Starling again voiced concern about only 7 square feet per unit as the requirement. However, he said he understood, as Kness explained last time, this was the maximum amount they were able to require.

“The only problem that I see is we have statutes standing in our way for us to actually protect these people,” said Starling.

“What you’re doing here is eliminating the possibility of the problem growing in the future. But you’re also lending support, albeit not directly, lending support to efforts at the state level, to change those rules, to enact state legislation that would do this statewide. Every time a county or a city steps up and does this, it says to the state legislators ‘this is something you should be doing,’” said Kness.

During the public hearing, the board members presented a letter received from Joe Kelly, executive vice president of the Iowa Manufactured Housing Association. This letter included problems Kelly said the organization has with the ordinance, specifically whether the structures would be used and the possibility of discrimination.

“There is no objection from our association as to your right to have an ordinance relative to storm shelter requirements. However, we do object to limiting your ordinance to just one class of housing. We think this is discriminatory on its face,” wrote Kelly.

Stacy Kinkaid, from Cedar Heights Housing Community in Camanche, also received a copy of this letter and attended the public hearing to discuss the ordinance. She asked Kness just why manufactured homes are singled out. She also informed him that at Cedar Heights they have a nearby residence to be used as a storm shelter, something that they have informed residents about. She also discussed the possibility of having a different existing structure, such as the Camanche school, act as a tornado shelter.

Kness addressed problems he saw in these alternatives. He said the concern for the residence would be whether it was accessible 24 hours a day and the fact that it is not handicap accessible. Also, he said that Cedar Heights is a beautiful, but large mobile home park, which could make the residence too far away for some of the people. He also brought up the fact that the school may not be ideal itself as a storm shelter. Kness also offered the possibility that a storm could happen when class is in session, which would require residents to crowd in with the students.

“But I guess, mostly, I’d like to address that you’re suggesting we’re picking on manufactured housing for some reason, and it’s more of unique characteristics of manufactured housing compared to others,” said Kness. “We have recommendations for sheltering from FEMA, the American Red Cross and the National Weather Service. And I would suggest if the manufactured housing association is saying that we’re being discriminatory, that those three organizations are also being discriminatory because they’re stating that there’s no safe place to shelter in a manufactured home. They don’t say that for apartments. They don’t say that for hospitals. They don’t say that for schools. They don’t say that for individual homes. For them they say to go to the safest place, which would be an interior room, without windows, or a basement.”

Kness passed out sheets with these recommendations from the organizations. In regard to mobile homes, the National Weather Service information found at www.crh.noaa.gov/dvn states: “Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable and should be evacuated. Trailer parks should have a community storm shelter and a warden to monitor broadcasts throughout the severe storm emergency. If there is no shelter nearby, leave the trailer and take cover on low, protected ground and cover your head.”

“Like I’ve said to the Board of Supervisors prior to this, we have to start somewhere. We can’t get to every building and every location with proper sheltering from zero to everything. We have to start somewhere,” said Kness.

Ryan Kinkaid from Cedar Heights pointed out he believed the ordinance could apply to other new structures, such as apartments. Stacy Kinkaid voiced the feeling that starting with manufactured homes, because they have to start somewhere, might not be fair.

“Firstly, I have to say that, using the defense of ‘Why me? Why not everybody else?’ is somewhat thin. We have to look at what the actual dangers are to your populations specifically,” said Kness. “The supposition that I’m being discriminatory or the board’s being discriminatory towards manufacturing housing. Like I said the National Weather Service, the Red Cross, FEMA, but also the weather is being discriminatory towards manufactured housing.”

Kness then read an excerpt from an article titled “Tornado Fatalities and Mobile Homes in the United States” by Daniel Sutter and Kevin M. Simmons. The excerpt read stated, “Fatalities from tornadoes have declined dramatically over the last century in the United States. Despite the overall reduction in tornado lethality, fatalities from mobile homes remain high. In fact, research suggests that the likelihood of a fatality in a mobile home is 10 times or more than that in a permanent home.”

Ryan Kinkaid pointed out the cost involved in having this requirement, even though it will only affect new parks or additions to existing manufactured home communities. Supervisor Jill Davisson suggested Kness try to contact an owner of a manufactured home community who has been required to build such a shelter in one of the other areas where this type of ordinance has a precedent. She said she believed getting a better idea of the cost should help.

Kness and the board did state that they do not plan to single out manufactured homes. Kness said once this process was finished, he would consider looking into similar ordinances for other structures.

“Once we kind of walk through this process, I wouldn’t be opposed to looking at the apartments,” said Davisson.

“We’re just asking for the board to consider a fair ordinance if you do propose this ordinance. You know, we’re one of basically two value, low income alternatives for people in our county and it’s a nice thing to have a mobile home park that’s affordable, rent wise, where a person can take a step up from renting and own their own home. And we’d like to keep it affordable. We’d like to keep it an option,” said Stacy Kinkaid.

“I appreciate your position and I have the same concerns you have. But the overall consideration is human life. Now it’s true that tornados don’t strike very often. Your chance of getting hit by one is very small. But tell that to people in Parkersburg, because it does happen. And when it happens, it’s too late to prepare. It’s over. It’s done.”

“But I think that the need is there. I think something has to be done. We have to do something or it’s never going to get done,” said Starling.

The board will have at least one, most likely two more readings of the ordinance before a decision would be made. The board expressed the desire to continue a conversation with members of the Manufactured Housing Association on this matter.

This Week's Circulars