Petition North Carolina Building Codes Council

Alter NC building codes to exempt structures at Turtle Island Preserve

“Dear Friends of Turtle Island Preserve,

Turtle Island Preserve is in danger. Please read this letter, and, if you feel moved to do so, carefully follow the suggestions for support provided at the end.

Recently, local county government authorities have targeted Turtle Island Preserve, attacking our way of life, and forcing our educational camp to close to visitors.

On the morning of September 19th, eleven county officials (being paid by tax payers) barged into our living room unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome. A large caravan of county vehicles blocked our private road, miles away from any public area. The men (some armed) presented a search warrant two and half miles into the interior of our private land, a most intimate zone of refuge where we do not even take visitors, and then spent the next half of the day violating our privacy and photographing our buildings and personal homes. The unwanted invasion team came prepared with topographic maps, aerial photographs, GPS equipment to discern coordinates, laptops, pages of highlighted photographs of unknown origins, and even a county 4-wheeler to more easily get around the property. Much time and tax-payer money had clearly been spent preparing for this deployment against our 501c3 non-profit education center.

The primary focus of this action centers on our buildings and construction methods. The American heritage buildings that we keep alive and teach about are “unacceptable” in today’s modern world. The very building techniques and materials that all of our ancestors thrived with are now being deemed unacceptable and targeted as illegal because they don’t fit into the cookie-cutter code status that is so extremely far from what we are about. The buildings and lifestyle of our working farm and education center teach about true American freedom. The invasive attack was a surreal wake-up call to the illusion of the American myth: “Land of the free.”

Those of you who have visited Turtle Island Preserve know that our structures are unique in that they are built with materials harvested here on the farm and adhere to natural and historical methods. Our buildings are unquestionably structurally sound, but do not fit the wording or application of modern building codes, as the methods used to build them predate the conception of modern building codes. The veteran, licensed engineer we hired to assess the structural concerns expressed by the county stated that our buildings are “Better than code.” If modern, cookie-cutter buildings fit our purposes or needs, we would have built them. But they certainly do not.

To comply with current, modern building codes and regulations, with no variance or allowance for natural, traditional, historical, cultural or educational models, is at the very least a compromise to our integrity, our mission, and our value to the community and the world. If we were forced to function like every other public facility, the values, ethics, and practical knowledge we teach would be lost. Trying to force a modern framework around a facility that is specifically designed to be primitive does not make sense. The methods we teach go back tens of thousands of years. The modern building codes go back only 40-50 years.

Sign the petition and join the letter writing campaign. With the North Carolina Building Codes Council meeting just three weeks away, we need all the voices we can get, and as quickly as possible.”

Read the entire article at

40 thoughts on “Petition North Carolina Building Codes Council”

  1. Email update from Turtle Island Preserve:
    Friends, we thank you for your support, your time, and your interest. This petition reached over 10,000 signatures just before we arrived at the NC Building Codes Council meeting in December. Eustace made a very compelling plea before the entire council and though the time was short, we were well received. In the coming months we are hoping to hear back about how the council will begin to address the lack of applicable codes to primitive camps in this state. We plan to hold our summer camps beginning in June and hope that you will stay closely in touch as the events unfold.

    It is our primary intent to stay true to the integrity of our methods. We will not compromise our mission in an attempt to modernize or meet completely inapplicable codes. Turtle Island is a non-electrical, non plumbed, alternative living space for humans and nature to coexist as one. Please continue to keep in touch and we thank you for your support.

    Our Spring “Turtle Tracks Newsletter” will be out in about 1 week. Please send a brief email to: – if you would like to receive a digital copy.

    • So where’s the evidence? Someone called in a complaint (a real estate agent and attorney, no less) and this is grounds for his arrest? It’s his word against his neighbor’s word at this point, right? Or maybe I’m missing something.

      • Owen,

        Where’s the evidence? Perhaps you can contact your local sources and they can tell you. As far as I know, the evidence is in the hands of the Watauga County Court system. From the article:

        “Palms said that a few nights ago, Conway tied her gate shut and posted papers on the gate and in the area ‘that said something like he wanted our land.'”

        I tell you what, Owen. If I was in her position, I’d take whatever Conway used to tie the gate shut and the “posted papers” and file them with the complaint. The article doesn’t say that she called in a complaint – it says she filed a complaint. I take that to mean a written complaint. And yes, she’s an attorney – go to her website to learn more:

        I think Conway is messing with the wrong people and I fail to see why you automatically jump to his defense instead of letting the legal process take its course. I don’t wish Conway any harm, but he appears to be his own worst enemy. This is not going to turn out well for Conway or Turtle Island if he keeps it up. You spit in the eyes of authority at your own risk.

        • I’m not necessarily defending Conway. I just asked where’s the evidence? The article was vague at best about this. All we know is it’s their word against his word. He’s innocent until proven guilty. How do you know “he’s messing with the wrong people”? That implies you have evidence that I’m not aware of (other than the toilets and stuff mentioned previously). Again, this is how people are railroaded. It happens all the time.

          definition of railroaded:
          a. To rush or push (something) through quickly in order to prevent careful consideration and possible criticism or obstruction: railroad a special-interest bill through Congress.
          b. To convict (an accused person) without a fair trial or on trumped-up charges.

  2. Owen,
    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve written. I live in a densely populated urban area and I am well aware of what harm over-zealous officials are capable of doing. I am also totally aware of the collusion between money and government. But are we to throw the baby out with the bath water? Is there no place in civilized society for standards to meet when building? Just because government has become overly intrusive (and my point applies to both Republicans and Democrats), does that mean we’ll just say the hell with it all and abolish government? I do not want to live in that world, because that is the world that Charles Dickens and other writers of his era wrote about. Do we need limits on government power? Does government need to butt out of a lot of business in modern life? Absolutely. But that’s not going to happen by continuing to watch TV, reading the NYT, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post or voting in rigged elections. But these points are peripheral to the code violations issued against TI. As long as every other resident of Watauga County is required to abide by the code, why does TI not have to abide by those rules? Now, I’m not so naive as to believe that building inspectors never take money under the table or that some minor violations are winked at – that’s human nature. But does that mean that the code is to be tossed out? There has to be a compromise here somewhere and I think the Building Council is open to negotiation. I didn’t sense, from reading the article, that they were going to bulldoze TI and jail Mr. Conway. If this issue at TI means anything to anyone, then we all should band together to hire Truly Nolen to exterminate every cockroach we can find in government. And there are plenty to find, of all political persuasions. We shouldn’t focus on TI – we should open our eyes and take to the streets to create some real “hope and change”.

  3. Here’s another article from the Charlotte Observer.

    Possible resolution:
    – A team of engineers and architects deem the structures safe, possibly with some modifications.
    – Improve the outhouses/septic systems.
    – Get an exemption for historical structures.
    – Camp guests sign a waiver/limited liability form (I believe this is common for Boy Scout camps, where campfires, running through the woods, etc. naturally present a certain amount of danger.)

    • Thanks for the link. I enjoyed the article and particularly got a hoot out of some of the comments. I know you wrote that you don’t generally read comments, but you might want to make an exception this time. I think the issues are coming into clearer focus and I don’t think it is about natural building vs. approved building. It’s appears to be more of an issue of I-can-do-whatever-I-want-and-you-have-no-right-to-tell-me-what-to-do on Mr. Conway’s part. I loved the comment that stated that Conway rode into Boone on horseback to protest having to pay taxes. I don’t know if that incident ever happened, but it lends support to the tentative idea that I expressed above.

      • There’s nothing wrong about riding into town on a horse dressed like Daniel Boone. He’s trying to draw attention to his situation. How many people have been railroaded off their land by greedy investors and developers?

        Most comments at the Charlotte Observer support my point of view.

        I like this comment at the Charlotte Observer:
        “If nature were subject to building codes, we’d have to shut down admittance to the outdoors.
        Codes are for those who want them and who want that sort of protection.
        Nothing wrong with that as long as it’s not forced on others. Life can
        be full and vibrant in nature, even if more dangerous. Why would we not
        have a choice? Perhaps the “compromise” is simply making sure that
        visitors understand that the codes are not applied and that they are on
        their own just like anyone is on their on when in the wild. The policies
        are outlawing being in the wild, but freedom means we have a choice. The land of the free and the home of the brave sounds like a perfect description of Turtle Island. Maybe it can describe our country again, too. I do hope so. I hope Mr Conway gets a lot of support.”

        Thousands of people are going to Turtle Island Preserve for a primitive wilderness experience, much like camping out. I say upgrade the toilets, have guests sign waivers and then stop harassing them.

        • More good comments from the Charlotte Observer:

          “I’m certainly no lawyer, but one thing seems pretty apparent. Officials have been aware of the situation for many years but turned a blind eye to it….which to me implies tacit approval.” [Owen: Exactly! You can’t tell me people in the local community didn’t know what was going on.]

          “I have always been amazed at what bureaucrats will focus on. During the building boom they turned a blind eye to many things but obsessed endlessly about a lean to shed on a building next to me.” [Yes! I know for certaint how big developers build houses with dozens of code violations and the building department will turn a blind eye after being told. It’s called selective enforcement. Fine if you have political connections. Too bad for the ordinary guy.]

          This one is hilarious:
          “Lets design a government wilderness camp.
          1- 32 million dollar grant to get started.
          2- Environmental studies to talk place over 10 years
          3- Consultants by the dozen.
          4- 12 million dollar grant to hire qualified instructors.
          5- A 125,000 dollar a year administrator.
          6- A 24 million dollar study on how to build structures that do not meet code and still be safe enough to stay overnight in.
          7- Form a committee that will have oversight and rules to be obeyed.
          8- Find out how anyone lived past the age of 10 150 years ago.”

          • Definitely a good article. After reading various articles, viewpoints, personal stories, etc, I agree that there is more to the plea than is presented on the petition. They could have done more to bring their stuff up to code before they got shut down. However the petition is only going to building code officials.
            Maybe I don’t support who Eustace Conway is as a person, or the choices he’s making. But the end result of the petition if it is successful is a slightly more lenient building code.
            It is true that his approach could also be burning bridges with local government, and that’s not good. I believe that government is necessary, though the system is frustrating to say the least when trying to make exceptions to the status quo.
            Yes, there are ways around building codes, but every once in a while a bulldog is necessary to get things changed. I agree, Paul, that his stance may be questionable at best, but it may be effective too. I appreciate some of the comments made to bring a full perspective on what’s going on, but ultimately signing the petition does no harm in my opinion, but I understand your opinion now if you think otherwise.

  4. The entire text of this article seems to be related to code enforcement, and no notice of militias anywhere on the article, so what the people at Turtle creek believe in aside from that seems to be out of the context of what is written here which clearly states ‘ The veteran, licensed engineer we hired to assess the structural concerns expressed by the county stated that our buildings are “Better than code.”’ This was a coding issue not a militia issue, now if the inspectors had other motives outside that scope is a different matter and not addressed here either as they obviously told the owner it related to code enforcement. This sounds like someone who went on a tour felt a need to blow the whistle on them for one reason or another and now taxpayer money is being spent to attack building which are not ‘normal’ and that should be a concern to all of us as that removes any right we may have to self determination and as housing is one of the most basic needs, self-preservation as well.

    • Kirk,

      Here’s the thing: you quote from the petition, which was written by Mr. Conway. There is an inherent conflict of interest there and I, for one, am chary of believing his story absent reading an account from the other side. Doing so is akin to declaring a person accused of a crime innocent based on his story alone. You make inferences, which may or may not be true, from a biased account. “…veteran, licensed engineer …” What qualifies this person as a “veteran” and what state is this engineer licensed in? We don’t know the facts here and it is foolish to use this issue as a basis for promoting ones’ personal beliefs about building codes. In a week or so, the Watauga Democrat will likely have an update on this issue that may or may not provide clarification. Shouldn’t we wait before jumping to conclusions?

      • Yeah, but you referred to the local newspaper as if it’s a credible source. Personally, I put very little value in what is the newspaper, TV, etc. My approach has been to get the scoop from local sources I trust.

        Example: The newspaper owner is part of the same social/economic group as the car dealership owners, store owners, etc. who advertise in the newspaper and this tends to create a good ‘ol boy network or status quo. True journalism is not so common nowadays.

        • Owen,

          You make a valid point. Journalism has fallen on hard times, that is quite true. In the case of the Watauga Democrat, I did some research and found that it is owned by Jones Media, Inc., out of Greenville, TN. I know nothing about the political orientation of Jones Media nor do I know how tightly they control the editors of their properties. It is always useful to know the “good ol’ boy” networks at play in any locality, which I don’t know but that you seem to have an insight into with your local contacts. I did ask a friend of mine, who is a professional carpenter and who used to live in Boone, for his opinion on both the paper and the building department. I’ll keep you posted …

          • Paul, I know nothing about Jones Media. However, I have little faith in modern journalism that comes out of 99% of newspapers and TV. For instance, how many stories have they had lately on earthbag building? straw bale houses? how to live truly sustainable lives? Maybe they’ve had a token article, but most likely they don’t cover topics like these. Have they covered cold fusion lately now that’s it’s 100% confirmed hundreds of times over? (See tomorrow’s blog post.) No, probably not. It’s not some conspiracy. It’s just the way most businesses operate. One newspaper for a moderate city of 100,000 can make millions of dollars. For instance, the newspaper company where I used to live in a city of 100,000 donated millions of dollars to the local university over the years. This particular newspaper was obviously making a lot of money, and it’s in their interest to go along with the flow. “Don’t rock the boat,” so to speak. Talking about dirt cheap earthbag houses would anger larger developers and contractors who advertise in their paper. It’s highly unlikely they would be real critical of the building department or similar things. And, much of their content is probably syndicated news. That’s how most newspapers do it now.

    • Owen,

      That is precisely why I’ve been cautioning that jumping on the Turtle Island bandwagon is not a good idea. If you think the comments on the Year of Mud are out of line, check out this blog. If you find a blog that has a rational discussion of this issue (besides this one!), please post a link to it.

      • There may not be one, ha ha. You know, it may be the times we live in. People seem really on edge. And it’s all too easy to bash people and hide behind user names on the Internet. Other than a quick glance, most times I don’t even bother reading the comments. YouTube is really bad.

        And just for clarity, I don’t feel like I’m jumping on the TI bandwagon. I’ve never claimed to know the full story and I know almost nothing about the people involved. I posted the story to draw attention to the building code situation.

  5. Milton,

    I agree wholeheartedly that there is more to this than we know. If anyone wants to do so, the property holdings of Eustace R. Conway are available on the Watauga County property website. He owns 23 parcels, ranging in size from .16 acres to 227.68 acres, for a total of 525.11 acres. 4 adjacent parcels, totaling 415.65 acres, make up the bulk of his holdings. He owns another 45 acres that is not connected to his main holdings and the balance are parcels 5.91 acres and less and are not adjacent to his main holding. I find it rather difficult to believe that the issue is one of a building encroachment on another person’s property. I do find it very believable that he pissed off someone with political clout and is suffering the consequences. The entire tone of his petition reflects an “in-your-face” attitude towards government. That doesn’t go over well with government officials, particularly when someone with clout pulls strings and sics the government on a person that they dislike. We’ll never know the proximate cause of the “raid”. I think it would be very wise if people would not be so quick to jump on the “defend Turtle Island” bandwagon before knowing the facts, particularly when that action is based on reading the petition, which quite obviously is biased in favor of Eustace Conway.

  6. There is probably much more to this then what is presented on the surface. It is hard to imagine the country would pull a raid like this over pit toilets or building code violations. Sounds to me like they were looking for something else and the code violations were the premise for entering the property. Perhaps a drug lab or weed farm? The other possibility is that someone with a bit of political pull is interested in the property for development. That person gets the county to condemn the structures. The owners end up having to sell, because it costs to much to bring the buildings up to code.

    Hear is a story about Roy Rogers and the city of Flagstaff Az. It seems Roy owned some acreage near or in the city. He drilled a well and it ended up being a high producing well of exceptional quality water. Roy’s well soon came to the attention of some of the more powerful people in the city. They tried every legal maneuver they could to get that well from Rogers. He didn’t want to sell. Finally Roy got so angry and tired of the battle, he dynamited the well.
    Not sure how factual or true the story is, but it was told to me by more then one long time resident of the area.

    People of influence often try to use government means to obtain financially beneficial contracts or property.

    • My sources on the ground said basically: 1. there was some confusion about the location of the property line and one of structures accidentally extended over the line; 2. the neighbor doesn’t like them and seems to have some political clout. They’re probably hoping to run them off and buy the land.

      The gov does occasionally make massive raids for ridiculous reasons. This isn’t the first time. There’s a case in the news today about a guy whose house was surrounded and raided by 150 or more cops. The neighbors said he was non-violent and well liked. Sometimes things get blown way out of proportion. For instance, search YouTube for hundreds of videos of police brutality. (Note: police have always been nice to me. I’m just pointing out how some get carried away and abuse their position.)

      • In today’s world with government finances being what they are, it is really hard to imagine that a raid of this sort wasn’t motivated by something bigger then a property dispute. It costs money to involve a large amount of personnel and eventually someone is usually held accountable.

        We locally had a similar problem where a neighbor built a studio and it fell over the neighbors property line. The city didn’t catch the problem thru the permitting/inspection process. In fact it wasn’t till after the structure was two or so years old that the boundary violation was discovered.
        The owner of the building simply paid the owner of the property for the small section of land. Not really all that much of a fuss. The city I suppose could have been sued for not catching it, but both parties decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.

        While indeed the police do and have gotten over zealous at times, this is a civil matter and most police never want to get involved in those. In fact if it was nothing more then a property dispute, the offending party had recourse using a civil suit. There is more then likely three parts to this story. Each of the two sides and then the truth.

      • Owen Said:
        “Note: police have always been nice to me.”

        The only reason the police are nice to a guy is when he has a cute wife. Owen, you should thank her every day for keeping you out of trouble.


  7. Owen, I’ve been reading articles on your site for more than 5 years and I always had a lot of respect for you. But I’ve lost a lot of it after reading your endorsement of Eustace Conway’s position. Nowhere can I find any solid information about what is going on – all I find are rants from the extreme right militia people, followers of Ron Paul, gold bugs and the followers of Austrian economics. I don’t know what is going on in Triplett, NC but I don’t think reflexively jumping on the “government-is-evil-incarnate” bandwagon is a wise decision. This is not a black-and-white issue; it is surely more complicated than the ideologues on the Internet would have us believe. I’m disappointed in you.

    • Paul, sorry you feel that way. It sounds like you read some goofy sites and got the wrong message. Of course, nothing is black and white. I knew about this story last year and so I have the background story. There’s a conflict over property rights/ownership between them and a neighbor. Based on what I’ve been told I see nothing wrong with what I wrote. If they can invade a peaceful indigenous training center over something like this, they won’t hesitate to attack individual property rights. It’s our obligation to speak out.

      I’m not privy to all the details, so I don’t necessarily agree with everything going on there. Here, I’m just talking about the obvious abuse of power. Also note, I hope you’re not lumping me in the radical militia category, because I’m not. But I don’t hesitate to speak out against wrongdoing when I see it.

      • Owen,

        How does the saying go? If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas, right? Government does wrong things all the time, every day. That is nothing new. But when the preponderance of comments at every site that I go to regarding this issue is full of venom and hatred towards government, I’m motivated to think that there must be something more to this story. I’m in contact with a person who says that Conway has a history of threatening violence towards government officials. If that is true, then if I were a government official in charge of public health and safety, you can bet that I’d go in with an armed escort and a signed search warrant. It’s possible to fly under the radar for years until you piss off your neighbors, who call in the government to settle the dispute. As I wrote, there is more here than the right wing militia-types would have you believe. I really dislike the “jump-on-the-bandwagon” mentality that is being promoted all over the Internet on this issue. It does nothing for responsible civic participation. Where is the critical thinking? Nowhere. This is just knee-jerk mob behavior without the slightest thought of responsible citizenship. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck would be so, so proud of these comments. In fact, I’m really surprised that they haven’t also already jumped on the bandwagon.

        • Paul, you are grossly misunderstanding this issue. This is not about supporting one individual or being anti-government. It’s about supporting natural building codes in my home state of North Carolina. Just because you think some supporters are against your views, and they support it for a separate reason, does not mean that we need to drop support for this entirely. Just like voting for our president, we can’t support everything he does, but you vote on the issues that matter to you personally.
          Besides, at what cost are we supporting this issue? They only have signatures for a petition for natural building. It’s not donating money. There is zero harm done here by signing. You are not signing a petition to bring more “extreme right militia groups.” You are signing for protection of natural building in NC.
          Owen is a relayer of information. He posted this one out of kindness from my suggestion.
          There is always a motive behind government intervention. Whatever it is, I don’t really care, because natural building hardly ever gets support in our state, so we need to stand for it. Just to be clear, please don’t associate someone else’s views for Owen’s. If you blame anyone, blame me for asking him to post it. I would still say you are taking this way further than it needs to be, but that’s your choice.

          • One more thing to be clear, Paul, you are “shooting the messenger.” Owen is merely bringing news, not forcing an anti-government opinion, or support Eustace Conway, or saying that the government is wrong for doing what they are doing, but rather that natural buildings are in danger and we ought to support them to stay intact.
            I have the highest respect for Owen. If you are projecting someone else’s ideas on him, that’s your choice, though I believe it’s the very wrong one. Again, Owen is doing the right thing, so if you blame someone for having this posted, and it goes against your views, blame me for suggesting it. I live in NC, and the local city gov’t has been involved in my natural building, and I’m happy to say we got everything resolved. I’m hoping to bring more natural building acceptance in NC, and that’s all that this is about to me. If it’s more to you, then just don’t sign the petition, and that’s the end of it.

        • Luke,

          I’m most assuredly NOT shooting the messenger. I wrote in my first comment that I had a lot of respect for Owen, but that it had been diminished by his support for the Turtle Island issue. I stand by that. I have a long-standing interest in natural building that goes back to way before you were born. If you want to support green building in NC, then publicize MudStrawLove, CarolinaCob, Kleiworks, Earthaven, the Western North Carolina Green Building Council and the hundreds of other people and organizations in North Carolina that work with government to change building codes. You don’t change government regulations by getting into shouting matches with building departments. You know that and have acknowledged that fact. It is my considered opinion that supporting Turtle Island because you support natural building codes is the wrong thing to do. Until someone posts the list of violations in the citations issued by the building department against Turtle Island, no one knows if this is about natural building or not. I seriously doubt that it is. Very, very seriously.

  8. I think it is wrong to waste tax payer money going after an organization that is trying to preserve our heritage. If a building exceeds code I do not see any issue. I, myself dream of building my own home, I don’t want the government telling me what type of home I have to live in

    • Thanks for the input. Maybe they should have scheduled an appointment and then had 1-2 health inspectors drop by. Instead they came blazing in with cavalry like forces.

  9. In one location you may be considered an innovative builder of low cost, energy efficient homes; a hero even. In another you could be made out to be a villain and lose everything. Choose your location wisely.

    This is yet another example of out of control, incompetent government workers. They’re attacking a decades old Native American training center! A licensed engineer says they’re stronger than code requires. So who knows more about these buildings — an engineer or government bureaucrats?

    Please sign the petition at (see link above), forward this to those you know, repost all over the Internet and contact the building code officials directly.


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