By: Gene Petriello Email
By: Gene Petriello Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock; March 30, 2009

AIKEN CTY, S.C. & RICHMOND CTY, Ga. --- As the weather warms up, public pool owners are scrambling to open their pools on time. We investigate to find out why there is so much confusion. That is due to the new federal law and the fact that Georgia has it's own law different than the federal law.

It's called the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Act. It's aimed to make sure your kids don't get sucked into a spa -- any public pool -- and it's drain. If that happens, a child can be injured or even die.

News 12 has pictures of a gruesome reality, of what could happen to your child if he/she is trapped underwater, sucked in by a pool drain. It's a reality that hit home for Nancy Baker, who's 7-year-old daughter Graeme was killed by a drain.

"It is a terrible violent kind of death," says Baker. She is the daughter-in-law of Former US Secretary of State James Baker. "Part of the tremendous grief beyond that trauma of what happened to her was the senselessness of it."

For years, Baker fought and advocated for new drain safety measures and won. "It was the right thing to do for her to give her short life meaning beyond just what she meant to us," Baker tells News 12.

That's when the VGB Act came to light, signed by President Bush in 2007 and took effect a year later. It says public pool drains need extra protection on it's drains, a release system or other changes depending on the make of the pool.

It's not just shooting hoops that Mary Collins and her three kids love to do. They love to go swimming too, just steps away from their home in Graniteville at Aiken County's only public pool.

"My son loves to dive off the diving board, things like that and he's learned new tricks," says Mary.

"People just have lots of fun," says her daughter Dymond. "It's like one big family."

But, those memories could be a wash this summer, thanks to the new federal law. It's going to cost Aiken County between $3,000 - $5,000 to fix the drain at the pool. That work is still not done and it might never get done. That's because of a tight budget leaving the county in a hiring freeze. That hiring freeze includes lifeguards to watch this pool. Unless the County Council changes that, the pool will not open for the summer. But, the day camp at that Rec Center is going to still be open.

Across the river in Richmond County, many pools that should be open right now, aren't. We found out there is some confusion among pool owners on just what needs to be done to get their pools in compliance with the federal law. So, we went straight to the source to find out what the problem is.

"We enforce the state law," says Richmond County Environmental Health Manager Mike Allison. "This is a federal law by the Consumer Product Safety division."

That, in a nutshell is the problem. There are two different laws: the state law and the federal law. About 4 months after the federal law took effect, Mike tells News 12 he received an e-mail from the state saying they changed the way they interpreted the law, in light of the VGB Act. But, still the two laws are not the same.

"We just can't be making up laws," says Mike. "Though, it's already established on the federal level, it's not established on the state level."

He adds, having a consistent law would be a big help for him and his agency. "It's hard to say, well, at one point it looks like what we have is okay and then a little bit later say well, no we are going to have to make some changes."

Some pool managers in Richmond County tell News 12, the pools they run will be opening later than usual this year.

All Augusta Rec and Park Department pools should be open by their normal operating date and in complete compliance. We're told those outdoor pools open on June 1. It's going to cost between $30,000 - $40,000 of your money to fix the pools to be in compliance with the federal law.

The Family Y across the CSRA is spending $5,000 out of it's operating budget to make sure that all of it's pools are in compliance by their opening date for the season, which is early May.

Back in Aiken County, Dymond hopes she'll be diving in at the Graniteville pool she loves so much. "I would be really depressed because I don't want to go somewhere else," she says.

"The pool has been a part of this community for a long time and it would be a real bad situation if it's not there anymore," says Mary.

Again, this is only for public pools in the county. We're told that Georgia is working on revising it's pool laws right now and that includes making a law that is in line with the VGB Act.

Pool owners tell us they are not only confused, they are also having a tough time getting the work done because of an overload of people needing the same products. We're told several products are on back order because manufacturers just cannot keep up with the demand.

The Aiken County Council will look at funding the lifeguards at it's April meeting. We asked Charles Barton, who represents the area where the pool is to comment, and he refused to comment since the council has not had a chance to discuss the issue. He did tell us that he thinks the entire budget needs to be looked at before any decision is made on the pool.


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