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May 16, 2012

Pool Lift Rule for Resorts Lacks Common Sense


Tom Silverman does not mince words: “This is just nuts,” he says. “It’s way overkill.”

The owner of Chaparral Suites Scottsdale is referring to a new federal requirement that hotels and resorts, just recovering from the recession, install fixed lifts for every pool and jacuzzi.

Nuts, indeed.

Since 2010, resorts and hotels have expected to make changes to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They believed they’d be able to buy a single portable lift for the rare occasion when someone in a wheelchair asked for help getting into a pool.

But in January, the Department of Justice dropped a bombshell: Hotels and resorts need to install a fixed lift for every pool, every jacuzzi. The lifts cost $3,000 to $9,700 each. Installation can add another $3,000.

“I’ve got four pools — two regular and two jacuzzis,” Silverman said.

Other Northeast Valley resorts have more. The price tag takes a chunk out of the bottom line.

And for what?

The requirement to build ramps at city intersections and public buildings made sense. Traditional curbs and stairs impeded daily mobility. But pools?

Silverman has run Chaparral Suites for three decades. He’s had many guests in wheelchairs or using canes. Not one has asked about getting into a pool, he said.

Rep. David Schweikert, speaking on the House floor, told of one Scottsdale resort owner who said he has had a portable lift for 10 years to serve his seven pools and jacuzzis. No one has ever asked to use it.

Now the feds expect him to spend as much as $70,000 to replace a dust-gathering portable lift with seven permanent ones. How does that make sense?

“I think the Department of Justice is just looking for something to keep it busy,” Silverman said.

Hotel operators also worry that fixed lifts will become an attractive nuisance, with children and adults climbing and jumping off them. In resorts where management removed diving boards to reduce legal liability, it would be a sadly ironic turn of events.

The hotel and resort industry arose in mass when the rules came out in January, which set a deadline of March15. The Justice Department extended the deadline to May21, and now Sept.21. That gives those in the northern half of the country a pass until next summer.

But in Scottsdale, Phoenix and other warm-weather resort communities, it’s little more than a reprieve. They’ll either have to shut pools or shell out big bucks.

Unless the Justice Department changes its mind, which doesn’t seem likely, or Congress passes the Pool SAFE Act, which would allow the use of portable lifts shared among pools. It also would delay the effective date until March.

It’s a reasonable compromise that relieves resort operators of an onerous burden while assuring access for travelers with disabilities.

Incredibly, the bill is co-sponsored by only half of the Arizona delegation: Reps. Schweikert, Ben Quayle, Jeff Flake and Trent Franks. This ought to be a bipartisan effort to protect a key state industry from costly overregulation.

Everyone can support the idea that people with disabilities should be able to enjoy their stay at an Arizona resort. But that enjoyment doesn’t require a fixed lift at every pool and jacuzzi. Based on resorts’ experience, it may not even require a portable lift.

But as long as the ADA is the law, there will be requirements and regulations. At least let them have some grounding in common sense.

A portable lift does the job.

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