Legislation waives earthquake design standards for select projects | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Legislation waives earthquake design standards for select projects

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2016 at 7:26 AM

DORMANT? A seismologist's theory that the New Madrid fault may be dying as an earthquake producer apparently undergirds legislation aimed at waiving Arkansas's earthquake-resistant design standards for select building projects.
  • DORMANT? A seismologist's theory that the New Madrid fault may be dying as an earthquake producer apparently undergirds legislation aimed at waiving Arkansas's earthquake-resistant design standards for select building projects.

Still awaiting a public discussion is SB 5 by Sen. David Burnett of Osceola and Rep. Monte Hodges of Blytheville to provide exceptions from the state's earthquake resistant design standards by which money could be saved on some targeted building projects.

As with legislative trickery of this type, the beneficiary of the legislation is not readily apparent.

The exception will apply to buildings "that are constructed for manufacturing or industrial occupancy or for public works"  and "if the alternate design standard has been properly adopted by ordinance in the locality in which the building or other structure is to be constructed."

This "emergency" rule change must be adopted the legislation says  because "seismic design requirements found in the Arkansas Fire Prevention Code are overly restrictive based on current scientific data; that the nature of these restrictions require businesses to expend significant resources; and that this act is immediately necessary to correct this restriction, to ease the burden on businesses considering construction in Arkansas, and to promote local economic development efforts."

I know Nucor Steel corporation is one of the special pleaders for this law change for another proposed facility in Mississippi County. But I also heard last night that another East Arkansas legislator has a public building project that he hopes to qualify for this design exception.

Is it good government to selectively allow exceptions from earthquake design standards? If the standards are, indeed, "overly restrictive," might the public not deserve a full discussion of this argument and a comprehensive rewrite if justified? The standards presumably had some scientific input in the first place. A plea to save money doesn't sound — on the surface — like a plea for safer buildings.

Mississippi County sits astride the famous New Madrid fault earthquake zone. Most scientists believe it still holds peril for a cataclysmic rumble though a push for an easing of design standards in the region is apparently supported by at least one seismologist who believes the fault is dying. It certainly doesn't seem to be an issue the Arkansas General Assembly is qualified to judge in a three-day special session.

UPDATE: As I was told last night, Sen. Ron Caldwell is the man with his own special local need for a building code waiver (special local legislation anyone?) His need is for building a library in a flood zone, otherwise prohibited. He says it's important to "economic development."

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