- Published on Wednesday, 09 January 2013 13:51
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The Beachgate Inn has been boarded up and vacated by 36 residents. Officials are researching how the hotel could have slipped through the system, leaving conditions so bad it had to be shut down.
Mayor Mike Ham stated in a phone interview that the council plans to look into current and past policies to determine if anything could have been done to prevent this situation. In addition, the council will look at other hotels in the area and ensure they are properly zoned. Ham also said they will explore implementing legislation to ensure the safety of other living quarters originally built as hotels.
Councilman Tim Curtin, Chairman of the Economic Development Committee, said, “People need to put this in the context of larger issue, the council has been dysfunctional for 20 years in the making. You’re asking us to solve problems that have been here for years, in a few months.”
Curtin came under fire for his proactive approach to seek help for the residents at the onset of the inspections. Curtin said, “I was acting as a citizen and a neighbor.” Curtin fielded all questions regarding council involvement to Mayor Ham.
Westmoreland Building Inspector, Dextor Monroe, was called in to inspect the Beachgate Inn’s structure after an accident at the hotel on Dec. 19, 2012. In the accident, a 72-year-old man, suffering from a medical condition, drove through the intersection of Euclid and Colonial Avenues, hit the hotel sign, two cars, several support rails, before striking the outside wall. A 62-year-old man was also struck. The driver and victim were transported to Mary Washington Hospital where the victim was pronounced dead and the driver was treated and released.
Serious violations found
During his inspection, Monroe discovered several serious electrical violations. He called in State Fire Marshall Timothy Ritchey from the Virginia Department of Fire and Safety to determine if the conditions could be remedied.
In an affidavit Ritchy found “dangerous conditions likely to contribute to the spread of fire in the hotel.” A major problem was the main electrical feed not securely attached to the building. He stated “This is a concern because wind could cause these wires to spark and cause a fire.”
In addition he cited other violations: loose electrical connections; damaged conduits; improperly installed outlets, many of them not properly grounded. Ritchy explained if too much current comes through the wires, they will just continue to spark rather than shut off, again possibly resulting in fire.
Fire watch needed
Due to the dangerous situation, Beachgate’s tenants needed to move. However, since government agencies and other resources were closed, the residents were allowed to stay until after the holidays. To keep them safe, a fire watch was created to ensure fire extinguishers were operable, heavy appliances were not used and extension cords were not being covered by combustibles.
The owner of the hotel, Douglas Simms, agreed to pay Northern Neck Builders to perform a fire watch. Simms, however, was only paying until 2 a.m. on Dec. 24. When informed, town officials met with Monroe. After discussions and legal counseling the council passed a resolution authorizing Val Foulds, Town Manager, to spend up to $4,000 to hire one or more qualified individuals to perform a 24 hour fire watch at the hotel beginning at 2:01a.m. on Dec. 24 and ending on Jan. 3 at midnight.
Mayor Mike Ham said in a phone interview that the money did not cover the full time help. Several volunteers worked around the clock performing fire watch to keep from displacing residents until after the new year.
Ham performed four shifts from midnight to 8 a.m. Volunteers from the Colonial Beach Volunteer Fire Department performed from 30 to 35 hours and Northern Neck Builders paid out of pocket for their employee to add another 22 hours part of which was performed on New Years Eve from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m.
The hotel was zoned for transient use. The electrical systems were not designed to handle large appliances. However, some tenants used Beachgate Inn for long-term living. Many of them paid by the week or month and equipped their rooms with refrigerators, microwaves, and similar appliances. According to Monroe, the use of such appliances caused electrical circuits to trip and exacerbated the safety issues
Mayor Ham said Beachgate’s residents were there for various reasons. Some as a result of financial difficulties, some with credit problems, others lived there by choice to escape other situations and one resident said he lived there because he doesn’t drive and it was within walking distance to shopping and work.
The following organizations are helping the residents and collecting donations: River of Life Church, Colonial Beach Baptist Church, St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church, and the VFW.