My Observatory Odyssey – Part 3

Harry Keller 80By Harry Keller
Former ETCJ Science Editor
& President of SmartScience

The unexpected costs just kept mounting.

May 6, 4:53 AM. The unexpected costs just kept mounting. We had to do a percolation test before our septic field could be approved, and the building permit could not be submitted until we had an approved percolation test. Of course, the testing people had a delay, and by the time they were ready, bad weather postponed it another month. We had the permit application all ready to go and just awaiting the “perc” test, which we received in January. The rate of more than one inch per minute was fantastic! It was literally off the charts. We were so happy. 

We submitted the monster pile of paper in a binder for approval right away in January. And, were rejected. We expected some problems with the application just because we were neophytes.

We submitted the monster pile of paper in a binder for approval…

Those familiar with residential construction know that the building code is updated on a three-year cycle. The last one had just ended. We were referencing the wrong code, and many parts of our submission did not meet the new requirements. In addition, we were informed that we could not submit again without a geotechnical report. What the heck is a geotechnical report, and why must we have one?

Our property sits in a seismic zone “E” region. In fact, it lies right next to the rift zone for the San Andreas Fault.

Our property sits in a seismic zone “E” region. In fact, it lies right next to the rift zone for the San Andreas Fault. An entire town of over 4,000 residents has sprung up on top of this rift zone, and we found a lot on the edge of the town that just misses it. Our land also has a considerable slope to it, averaging about 30%. The land rises about 40 feet as you traverse the 140 feet from front to back.

The combination of the seismic zone and the slope triggers the requirement of a geotechnical report also called a soils report. This report must be prepared by a licensed geotechnical engineer (aka soils engineer) who will certify that the soil on which you build will not liquefy or otherwise misbehave during an earthquake. We found a local engineer who only charged $3,000 for doing this. Others had estimated as much as $9,000 for the same work. The county charged $1,100 for reviewing the report. Another long delay!

You can imagine that I am now tired of hiring this or that engineer

We finally have the report, and it says that we can build, but we must have a geotechnical engineer present for some part of foundation construction. More costs. Great. We submit the report and pay the fees. I could not believe that it was rejected. I had to call the reviewer to understand the reasons. I was told that the report did not include a geologic report, which was required. I had to employ a geologic engineer (essentially, a geologist with papers) to make one of these. This report would certify that we were not sitting on a rift and that groundwater was far below the surface. Another month or so and $3,000 later, we had our report.

You can imagine that I am now tired of hiring this or that engineer and waiting forever and paying a big fee on top of it all. When I was told that I had to have a grading plan and an erosion-control plan, I decided to do them myself. I am far past retirement age and have limited financial resources.

To be continued in part 4.

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