Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Council: Is sprinkler ordinance too restrictive?

On Monday the Cathlamet Town Council was joined by representatives from Port District 1, the county’s building and planning department, Chamber of Commerce, fire department and River Mile 38 to deliberate whether a current fire sprinkler ordinance is restricting economic growth.

Other items on the agenda included a cost update to the Columbia Street waterline project which required the replacement of malfunctioning couplings; the project engineer is expected to investigate whether costs can be covered by the installers and/or manufacturers. The council passed a motion to send 2% of their state liquor profits and excise tax revenue to fund county substance use disorder programs as a part of a state mandate. A motion to enter into an agreement with Ecological Land Services (ELS) to repair the town dock was tabled; the town attorney will follow up with ELS to gain clarity before moving forward.

The council passed separate motions to (1) increase in-town and out-of-town sewer rates by 1.6% effective this December and (2) increase the regular property tax levy by 1%. Property owner’s tax would not increase by 1% because their rates are based on assessed values.

Fire sprinkler ordinance

River Mile 38 Brewery Co. owner Rex Czuba appeared at the town council meeting to present his case for repealing a fire sprinkler ordinance which requires the construction of new commercial buildings of 1,500 square feet or more to install automatic sprinkler systems. Estimates for installing a sprinkler system range between $20 - $90,000.

Washington state requires commercial spaces used for serving food and beverages to install automatic sprinkler systems if they exceed 5,000 square feet.

According to a letter from Czuba to the councilmembers, the River Mile 38 team is planning to construct a 2,400 square foot taproom and restaurant located in the southwest corner of the Elochoman Marina. The new facility would build upon the existing operation through additional employment opportunities, incentivising local tourism, and providing one of the only waterfront restaurants between Kalama and the coast.

Oh, and more beer.

“Given that we have outgrown our current capacity for both brewing and serving our customers, we have joined forces with the port to drive more economic development," he said. "We want to build something that the town can be proud of, to invest in the people and products that make Cathlamet a great place to work and live in.”

Despite River Mile 38’s effort to bring more beer and tourism into town, the fire sprinkler ordinance and other potential fire hazards are barriers to even applying for a building permit. Fire Chief Vernon Barton agreed that the ordinance was on the restrictive side but said a complete overhaul wouldn’t be necessary.

“No matter what size the structure, you need fire protection. To just drop the ordinance would be a mistake, ” Barton cautioned.

The fire chief was asked to review Czuba’s plans for the new facility and produce an assessment which would be presented at the next council meeting. The presentation will help inform the town’s decision to accommodate the development.

Among the large number of virtual attendees were representatives who advised on River Mile 38’s new facility including Wahkiakum County Building Inspector Dave Hicks. He expressed a more real concern for downtown’s tightly packed buildings without sprinkler systems. He continued to highlight the many fire and safety conscious features of the proposed facility which he believed would supersede the need for an expensive sprinkler system.

“What we have is a metal container building that is isolated next to the river,” Hicks illustrated. “Why is Cathlamet restricting all new construction at 3,500 feet less than the rest of the world?”

Editor's note: corrections were made to this article on November 18th.


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