New barns no longer need sprinklers

Island County commissioners have approved new fire flow standards that should benefit farmers.

With the amended ordinance, farmers no longer have to include sprinklers when they build new barns, and that will save them thousands of dollars.

“It’s trying to make business more feasible for farmers,” said Island County Planning Director Phil Bakke.

He added that the county, several local farmers and fire officials worked together to develop mutually acceptable standards.

“It’s a big step forward to keep farming in Island County,” Bakke said. “It was a real good example of the farmers, the fire districts and the county working together to reach a deal.”

The new fire standards, approved Feb. 23, include limits on the height and size of the barn structure as well as putting a 60-foot separation between current and potential structures.

The standards provide farmers with the ability to store hay in buildings that are 12,000 square feet or smaller and one story in height.

Because of their size, new agricultural buildings previously had to have a sprinkler system.

“It was something that didn’t make any sense,” said Wilbur Bishop, co-owner of Sherman Bishop Farms who approached the county a couple years ago to build a barn.

He said that barn he proposed had a metal roof, concrete floor and not a lot of flammable material.

Adding a sprinkler system would have added $70,000 to $90,000 to the cost of the barn which would have put an additional burden on a business that has small profit margins, Bishop said.

Bakke agreed it didn’t make any sense to have a building in the country meet the same standards as one in the middle of the city.

Joe Biller, chief of Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue, said the only concern he had was whether the barn would change uses at some future date.

However, the new standards adopted by the commissioners apply to larger 10-acre and 20-acre parcels that are zoned commercial agriculture or rural agriculture.

Bishop added that he appreciated how the county and fire districts have been willing to work with local farmers.

The county has been working on the new standards for more than a year.

Bakke said that time was needed to develop the standards and then have the various state and local agencies sign off on them.

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