Work session to shed light on fire code spat

MARQUETTE — The Marquette City Commission has scheduled a work session to learn more about passage of a fire code it postponed earlier this summer that was recommended by the Marquette City Fire Department and opposed by some local developers.

The public work session will be held at 5:15 p.m. Monday in room 103 of Marquette City Hall, located at 300 W. Baraga Ave.

Fire Chief Ian Davis brought the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Code 1 before the commission in June saying the department has been following it over the last 20 years, but, unbeknownst to him, it had never been formally adopted. That means the code is not legally defensible, Davis said.

It’s legality was tested earlier this year when Mark Curran, of real estate developer Curran and Co., challenged a permit requirement by the fire department for additional water mains that would allow firefighters to source water onsite in case of a fire.

Construction is almost finished on the Rippling River Resort Campground on M-553 by the ski hill. It has not set an open date, according to its Facebook page.

Curran spoke during public comment at the June meeting

“To be honest, we all know a lot of this change is because of our Rippling River Resort and that NFPA 1 would’ve forced us into building 2,000 plus feet of water main, ‘kay?” Curran said. “We volunteered to bore in a 6-inch water line, but no, it had to be 8-inch, … and we went round and round and were not able to come up with a compromise.”

According to Feb. 7 public meeting minutes of the Marquette Planning Commission, Curran’s decision not to supply firefighting water supply will make it the only overnight occupancy in the city without municipal fire hydrants or water supply for the protection of its’ customers and responding firefighters.

Correspondence from the fire department in the minutes states the fire department had previously denied the campground site plan, but approved it after the Michigan Bureau of Fire Services said they couldn’t legally deny the project.

In the minutes, Curran said regarding the fire concerns that all of the cabins will have sprinkler systems off of the domestic water supply system under the NFPA sprinkler code, and the wells at the site will provide substantial water.

Davis said the issue came to his attention before the campground ran into the permitting problems.

“Basically we’re not a rural firefighting agency,” Davis said. “We don’t have tankers to be able to come and put out fires. We rely on the city’s water system and hydrants to put out fires. Where he put his development in, there weren’t hydrants close enough, and obviously he didn’t want to put the expense in to put them in.”

Davis said not enacting the NFPA 1 might cause business and residential insurance rates to go up if more developments don’t follow those rules.

L.R. Swadley, president of the Michigan Home Builders Association and owner of Swadley Development in Marquette, wrote in a letter to commissioners on Aug. 29 that there’s little substance to Davis’s claim that insurance rates could rise. He said the existing codes adequately protect life and safety and that NFPA 1 leads to unnecessary conflicts with the Single State Construction Code Act.

“These inherent conflicts, overlaps and inconsistencies can contribute to delays in the plan review and inspection process, create unnecessary ‘traps’ for designers and owners, and add unwanted cost and complication to construction and would negatively affect economic development in not only the city of Marquette but the surrounding communities as well,” Swadley wrote.

Davis said in June the code is used across the country, including Sault Ste. Marie, Menominee and many other cities.

“This isn’t a novel code that we’re just pulling out just for our city,” Davis said. “What I’m trying to do is maintain the way we’ve been doing things for the last two decades. That’s all. … I just want to make sure that if we’re pushed, we can back it up in the courts. As of right now, we can’t, and that does scare me on a fire safety and a life safety level in Marquette.”

Swadley wrote that developers are not against public safety, but that Marquette needs a “predictable, legal, transparent development and zoning approval process.”

The commission voted 5-2 to postpone the decision pending more information. Commissioner Mike Conley and Mayor Dave Campana opposed the postponement, saying they back Davis’s recommendation.

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.