Buck Knob residents, officials seek fire protection compromise

After years of fruitlessly demanding fire protection from a local volunteer fire department, homeowners on Buck Knob Island in the middle of Lake Glenville are finally inching toward their goal.

So far, the state fire marshal’s office has assessed the situation and provided recommendations to local officials on how to cope with the sticky situation.

Jackson County Manager Ken Westmoreland has instructed the county fire marshal to come up with a cost estimate for providing fire protection to the island, while Cashiers Fire Chief Randy Dillard said he hopes to have a proposal for fire protection ready within a couple of weeks.

Dillard did not provide any other comment since Buck Knob homeowners have threatened legal action in the past.

Jackson County commissioners had planned to discuss the issue at their meeting in Cashiers on Monday, but the meeting was cancelled due to bad weather.

According to Brian Colona, president of the Buck Knob Homeowners Association, Jackson County would like to see a comprehensive plan that addresses fire protection not just for Buck Island, but also for two other islands on Lake Glenville: a smaller island that houses only one residence, and another island that is yet to be developed but can accommodate 10 to 12 homes.

The final decision about fire protection, however, rests with the Cashiers/Glenville Fire Department’s nonprofit board of directors, since Jackson County is not the entity that provides those services.

Jackson County, which does contribute significantly each year to fire departments across the county, is currently acting as mediator to hopefully settle the dispute between the fire department and the Buck Knob Homeowners Association.

One possible solution is to purchase fireboats, which can effectively tame fires on islands as long as each home lies within 1,000 feet from the lakeshore. Kristin Milam, spokeswoman for the state fire marshal, said such is the case for houses on Buck Knob.

“If the fire department can successfully purchase one of those, that would solve a lot of problems,” said Milam.

But a fire protection consultant the homeowners hired earlier concluded that a fireboat would not provide adequate service to most of the homes on the island, according to Colona. The fireboat may not provide full coverage for the three lots that sit high at the crown of the island and only partial coverage for the 16 lots ringing the island’s perimeter.

“The main concern and problem with the fireboat is that it’s limited,” said Colona. “The fireboat would provide no protection to the back side of the homes.”

The consultant’s suggestion was to install a high capacity pump permanently on the island, so it could easily draw water from Lake Glenville. The consultant also recommended that fire hydrants be strategically placed throughout the island.

Colona said a fire truck and all equipment could be stored on the island, so that only the firefighters would have to be transported to Buck Knob, speeding up response times. The homeowners are willing to put up community land for that purpose.

The Buck Knob Homeowners Association has even offered use of two boats to rush firefighters out to the island, which lies just 250 yards from the shore. Colona said that the fire department indicated that it would instead maintain its own boats to ensure that they meet state standards.

Property owners on Buck Knob have campaigned to bring fire protection there for years not only to improve safety, but also to lower homeowners’ insurance costs.

The island has the lowest fire protection rating of class 10, which inevitably equates to higher charges for homeowner’s insurance.

The Cashiers/Glenville Fire Department has said that Buck Knob, however, is not the only area in Jackson County with such a rating. The department would not state where else in their coverage area has a rating of 10.

Buck Knob homeowners have argued that as taxpayers, they should be provided what they consider a basic service. Colona said that Buck Knob homeowners contributed about $48,000 in taxes in 2008 and a total of about $130,000 from the three-year period prior to 2008.

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