Town Stops Using Google Earth To Spot Illegal Pools Melissa Block talks with Leroy Barnes Jr., chief building inspector for the town of Riverhead, New York. The town voted Wednesday to stop using Google Earth satellite images to find backyard pools that don't have proper permits.

Town Stops Using Google Earth To Spot Illegal Pools

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Spygate is officially over, those words, from a town council member in Riverhead, New York, on Long Island. The spygate he's referring to doesn't involve Russian double agents or top-secret security breaches. It's all about swimming pools.

The town of Riverhead has voted to stop using Google Earth satellite images to find backyard pools that don't have proper permits. Leroy Barnes, Jr., is Riverhead's chief building inspector. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. LEROY BARNES JR. (Chief Building Inspector, Riverhead, New York): How are you?

BLOCK: I'm okay. Now, when did you start using Google Earth to find these pools?

Mr. BARNES: About a year and a half ago.

BLOCK: Uh-huh, and how many total number of pools did you find that were not in compliance, didn't have the right permits?

Mr. BARNES: Well, there were people that had open permits but that had expired. So I consider them not having permits. So there was a total of 250 pools that had either an open permit with no inspection, or there were pools that had no permits at all to begin with and were constructed.

BLOCK: And you were able to figure that out by looking at these satellite images and comparing them against I guess the records you keep.

Mr. BARNES: Right, and also checking on our building permit system to see if they had a permit. So when they started to look at the ones that had expired, we started stumbling across ones that had no permits to begin with, and that's when we started using the Google Earth to verify.

BLOCK: Hmm. Did you have anybody complaining to you about privacy and how you found out?

Mr. BARNES: Well, you know, it's funny. Most of the people that complained were the ones that didn't have the permits.

BLOCK: Well, yeah.

Mr. BARNES: I've gotten a lot of emails and kind calls from people that live in the town, and they were happy that we were doing that because a lot of people don't get permits because they don't want to pay property taxes. So by not getting a permit, the assessors are not aware that those structures are there, and they can't assess them.

So that's what's created such an issue for people. But I use it strictly for safety.

BLOCK: And what are the safety issues that you're worried about here?

Mr. BARNES: Well, every pool that's constructed in the state of New York has to have a legal barrier around the pool, and it also has to be alarmed. You have to have a barrier, which is a four-foot fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate. And also, you're supposed to have alarms on your rear doors in the fenced area of the rear yard so that if you have kids and they go outside, the alarm trips. So they know their kids are in the backyard.

And, you know, people leave gates open unlocked, and kids do fall in pools, and they do drown. I mean, our local, our Newsday, which is an island-wide newspaper, certainly gave a very nice editorial towards my office and me saying that it was about time that some of the towns are using their heads and using the resources available that are free.

BLOCK: So when you hear one of the town council members there in Riverhead refer to this as spygate, maybe he's joking, maybe he's not. What do you think?

Mr. BARNES: I think they're doing it affectionately, honestly. You know, I talked to Mr. Gabrielson(ph) about it after. So, you know, he's not trying to be offensive to me or anyone else. I think he was just joking around, and it turned out to be called spygate. But we're not really spying.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Barnes, it's good to talk to you. Thanks very much.

Mr. BARNES: Well, thank you, Melissa, and you have a good day and a nice weekend.

BLOCK: You, too.

Mr. BARNES: Take care.

BLOCK: That's Leroy Barnes Jr. He's the chief building inspector for Riverhead, Long Island, where the town council voted Wednesday to stop using Google Earth or other satellite images to find pools without permits.

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