Electronic pool covers spark countywide debate
For some homeowners, a discrepancy between Rochester and Olmsted County regulations is causing headaches, and it could put a dent in their wallets.
When Sue Haakenson installed a pool at her home a year ago, she wanted to make sure her seven grandchildren could still be safe in the backyard. So Haakenson, who lives in the country between Pine Island and Douglas, decided to install an electronic pool cover that would automatically cover up the water when a security code is entered.
But she soon learned that a pool cover isn't good enough to satisfy county regulations. A fence is needed.
For homeowners in townships and unincorporated cities, the county ordinance rules, meaning a pool must have a fence to keep people — especially children — from getting into the water. But within Rochester city limits, residents can use an electronic cover, which closes over the water like the top of a convertible, instead of a fence.
Brad Thatcher of the Rochester-based business Thatcher Pools and Spas is leading a charge to change the county's mind and allow homeowners like Haakenson to have a pool with only an electronic cover.
"When this automatic cover is closed, it's closed for good; you can't get in unless you have the key," Thatcher said. "We're not saying that this is a perfect solution, but we're telling people that there is a better solution."
With fences, kids can still find ways to get in, Thatcher said. And often the people most in danger of drowning are those who live in the house, who would have access to the pool even with a fence, he said.
For these reasons, Thatcher went before the Olmsted County Board thinking that the issue was a "no-brainer."
"But nope, they don't want to change it," he said.
Mike Podulke, a county commissioner, insists the covers cannot replace a fence with a self-closing latch that swings shut automatically.
"The truth is that it's easy to forget to close the pool cover and then there's no protection," he said. "If the pool cover is closed it's probably safer than a fence … but a human that makes errors,
how is that better than a passive fence that always works?"
Just because other places have softened their regulations doesn't mean Olmsted County should follow suit, Podulke said.
"A widely held bad idea is still a bad idea," he said. "It would be more peaceful and quiet to just shut up and do it, but that's not sound."
Thatcher isn't ready to give up, though. He will go before the board again, he said, with even more information to convince them electronic covers are just as safe, if not safer, than fences.