My Observatory Odyssey – Part 4

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

We are stopped cold by someone who reviews septic systems.

May 8, 2020, 9:33 AM. I first had to have a topological survey done. This is not an official survey but is much more precise. Amazing! The issues arise from legal considerations. I cannot even begin to explain what a monumental mental task it is to fit a house into a hillside and meet all of the county’s requirements. So, I won’t bore you with slopes and runoff and the rest.

I have a structural engineer, a rarity in the high desert, who designed the first foundation. We changed things so much that we had to have another one. Our foundation was now projected to be ten feet high due to the slope of the hill in which we planned to site our house. Our structural engineer looked at the as-yet-unapproved grading plan and told us that a seventeen-foot foundation was necessary. That’s huge! The cost of the foundation just went ballistic. The retaining wall portion had to be twelve inches thick. The footings are immense. We now have to walk up seventeen feet of stairs instead of eight feet, and we have to pay for those extra steps. 

We were ready to give up when we suddenly realized that we had a bonus that might equalize it all out. Seventeen feet is enough height to allow another floor, a sort of family room or recreation room or “basement” above the garage. This will be conditioned space and can hold the air handler and whole-house humidifier. The cost of building that 24’x36′ floor added considerably to the project costs, but the value for our children and grandchildren’s visits cannot be measured in dollars. We can defray some of these costs by using some of that space for our business as a science laboratory and film studio. We can even put in a small bathroom there. It seems that you always are short one bathroom, especially when you are as old as we are.

The cost of building that 24’x36′ floor added considerably to the project costs, but the value for our children and grandchildren’s visits cannot be measured in dollars.

While we were not thrilled with running our savings down this much, we figured out our living costs in this new home and found that we could live frugally on our Social Security alone. We cannot do that where we are now. Assuming that we can put in the planned solar system, our taxes, utilities, food, and communications costs will be affordable.

We managed to have our grading plan approved after discussions with a very friendly reviewer and paying the usual fees. It had to have a small retaining wall, which also required plans and fees.

At this point, we have been in long conversations with the county about the building plans and think that we have every single thing lined up perfectly. Every report — percolation, geotechnical, geological, and many more that are less challenging — has been submitted and approved. We submit the last bits and ask for a review.

And, we are stopped cold by someone who reviews septic systems. She says that we are too close to a “blue-line stream.” I have been on this land a hundred times or more and have never seen a stream. She insists that a septic system within fifty feet of a stream will pollute it and anything downstream. You may recall that perc test that was faster than one inch per minute. Such pollution was not possible, but it was the regulation. I pointed out that there was no stream. She insisted. I looked at maps and did not find it. Finally, she sent me a map showing a dashed blue line passing in front of our land. If this were actually the case, our land would be unbuildable. Total disaster!

I can only hope that the woman who caused me so much grief was properly reamed.

The percolation test had included a septic design that was already approved. I asked her how she would unapprove an approval. I tracked down the person who did the original approval and was assured that it was fine. My reviewer wouldn’t budge.

I sent her pictures of the land and the nearby land. I sent her pictures of where the referenced stream actually was. She said that the stream was underground!  What? How can I measure the distance to an underground stream? How can you even verify that it is there?

I called my county commissioner’s office and was eventually contacted by a person higher up in the hierarchy who told me that these reviewers are there to help me, not to create more problems. He took a nice trip up to the mountains and visited my land. He came back and told me that there was no such blue-line stream. I can only hope that the woman who caused me so much grief was properly reamed. The septic plan was quickly approved, and I received the building permit shortly thereafter. It had only taken four years and vast sums of money — present, past, and future.

 

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