The Individual versus the Community

Last week I attended a special meeting of the Homeowners Association that we belong to as a part of the community the lake house is in.

The reason for this was that there was substantial damage as a result of the flooding in the area back in December of 2007.

When the work to be completed to repair the existing damage is added to the work to be completed limit the damage should another flood occur is about 4.2 million dollars. That’s million, as in lots of zeroes.

The majority of the work to be completed is in two areas with the remainder a series of smaller projects intended to either repair existing damage or reduce damage should it happen again.

The first major project is to dredge the existing lake. Best estimates right now are that roughly 18% of the capacity of the lake has been filled with silt and other crud that needs to be removed. That project will cost something like 1.8 million.

In the course of the discussion someone asked, legitimately, whether the lake could be drained so that instead of dredging, it could be done with bulldozers and other earth moving equipment. Sounds good, but the reality turns out to be that it would take two years before the ground would harden sufficiently for trucks and bulldozers to go down and do the work. And it would be stinky and a pretty useless lake in the meantime.

So, we’re left with dredging and there are, of course, companies out there that do that for a living and are happy to help us.

But there are complicating factors, like you then need somewhere to take the roughly 225,000 dump truck loads of remains that the dredging needs to remove. That’s a serious amount of mud!

Which leads to an additional project to find a chunk of land nearby that could be used by the dredging company to create three storage areas where they would dump the remains and let them settle and drain and dry. Each would be used in turn so that the first would be ready for use again by the time they were done with the third. Very complicated, but it’s been done and is a solvable, albeit expensive, problem.

The second area is work on the currently earthen dam that keeps the lake a lake and not a wide meadow with a creek down the middle.

The board has talked with people who solve such problems and determined that the most cost effective solution is to create a spillway partway across the dam that starts something like 18 inches above the current high point of the lake. The idea would be that if the water rose 18 inches over capacity, it would then flow across that spillway. That spillway has to be covered, front and back, with cement. Non-trivial construction, but again, this stuff has been done before.

The thing that keeps this from being an even worse issue is that there is apparently good reason to believe that FEMA will be willing to cover 75% of the projects if we can put up the remaining 25%. Sounds good till you figure out that that’s over a million dollars.

The Homeowners Association (HOA) doesn’t have anything like that put away, so it has to come from a loan of some sort.

That means that if you divide the necessary amount to borrow by the number of paying members, then amortize that across a 15 year or 30 year loan, the amount required from each homeowner would increase our yearly dues by $350-$550/year for the life of the loan.

This was not well received by some of the homeowners since that would represent an increase of up to 50%.

But, you know what? The damage was done. If we don’t take the steps to fix what was damaged, the value of our investment is impacted. If we don’t take steps to see that if there is another “event”, we minimize the damage, we risk more damage as well as potential loss of the dam. It’s an earthen dam. I guess the water was six inches from going over the top. Had it done so, in all likelihood, the dam would have washed away, leaving us with a very big mess and a very expensive problem to fix. Or we just build a golf course in the meadow that would have remained…

I was fascinated when one of the people who owns property at the lake but above the edge asked how many lakefront properties were affected. The answer was something like 80. Then he asked how many paying lots there were. Something like 225. So, his observation was that the entire community was going to take on most of the debt to protect a third of the residents. Further, he stated that he wasn’t clear why he’d pay more money to protect the houses on the waterfront when his home was not affected.

Yowza! I was expecting a response in the form involving tar and perhaps feathers or rumblings of “get a rope!” There were rumblings, but hey, we’re Oregonians, we’re generally not particularly confrontational as a tribe.

While the observation that the majority would have to bear costs for the minority are, on the surface, true, it was still interesting to hear it spoken out loud.

I occasionally read about people complaining that they are forced to pay taxes for schools despite having their kids in private schools or not having kids at all. Or people who complain that they pay taxes for roads despite taking mass transit or riding a bike. All true, on the surface, but isn’t that simply a shared cost of the community?

Unhealthy schools or roads are symptoms of an unhealthy community. Unhealthy communities don’t draw people to move there or businesses to relocate. Industry avoids them because they know that the people they hire or bring with them are looking for good roads, schools and other infrastructure.

Similarly, while the flooding may not have directly affected this person, if the issues with the dam doesn’t get addressed and next time the dam breaches and has to be rebuilt at a far higher cost or not at all, the very reason that homeowner purchased a home at the lake will be affected if there’s no lake! Or, if the dredging doesn’t occur and the lake continues to fill with silt to the point where it’s unhealthy and/or unusable, then the value of his investment is decreased. That affects him very, very directly. And yet, that notion, let alone any desire to support the repair of the community, did not keep him from saying what he said.

I realize that people are first and foremost going to look out for their own interests, but that was a pretty surprising example of short sightedness.

Statistical “Events”

We’ve had significant flooding in the area twice in the last 10 years of so.

Back in 1996 there was significant flooding in the area. At the time it was declared, depending on where you lived, as a “100 year flood” or a “thousand year flood”. Out in Vernonia, I guess each was referred to as a “500 year flood”.

We also had significant flooding in 2007.

Side Note: All of this presumes a wealth of historical data which I think is suspect to begin with. I realize that we can find indications in historical data to predict some events, but given that our insight in to the weather of 500 years ago in the Northwest is pretty limited, I have to be a bit wary of the putting much weight on it.

Statistically, if you buy a 1:500 chance of something happening, the odds of it happening back to back are 1:250000 or one in a quarter million. I realize it’s not quite that since it’s been 10 years between 1996 and 2007, but the number is big. And yet it happened.

Could it be a statistical anomaly? Sure. We could go another 10,000 years and not have it happen, but I’m not holding my breath.

Whether you believe in Global Warming or not. Whether you believe this is a cycle influenced by humans or not, things seem to be changing in the weather. Even our current administration finally had to acknowledge the changes, if not agree on the source.

In that case, I wonder how often such determinations as “one in a 100/500/1000” are recalculated?

If it happens again in less than 10 years, then do the experts say “yeah, 3 times in 20 years would seem to indicate our estimates are a bit off. Or does it only take two times?

I’m sure there are people trying to figure this out right now. Surely people who sell flood insurance are going to be going over the data. Two “events” that were supposed to be 1:500 in 10 years has really got to put a kink in their bottom line, I would think.

And I can only image that it will really be a bad thing for people who were purchasing flood insurance based on data indicating they were only at risk once in five hundred years suddenly have their rates spike when the insurance companies change their estimates and declare it to be a much higher risk. Potentially a higher enough risk to make flood protection prohibitive.

What a terrible thing to have to deal with on top of potentially losing much of their possessions, to then have to look at either paying a significantly increased premium or, even worse, having to sell, perhaps at a reduced value, because of the now increased risk of flooding.

Second home, first visit

01/04/08
The Arrival

Recently we purchased a second home. This is not something I thought likely for me, but we made it happen and I’m pretty excited about it.

It’s near an area that flooded in recent storms, so there has been a fair bit of damage to homes, roads, infrastructure, etc. It is very much still in recovery.

Up to the cabin for the first time. Weather was nasty with a storm hitting the coast and the Coast Range. Evidence of the storm was all over the road in the form of branches and tree bits. It was windy, wet and nasty.

But, having said all that, I am looking forward to having the place, even looking forward to being alone in the place for the evening. Fun!

I pull up the road and … what the heck?! The lights are on in the cabin.

My first thought was that our realtor, knowing that I was planning on being there that evening, had put the lights on for me. But, no, there is a truck above the cabin on the road. Again, what the heck?!

As I approached the front door and looked in, I was thinking the best odds were that the electrical contractor I was expecting the next morning was perhaps getting an early start on the work to be done tomorrow.

Sure enough, all I could make out was the lower half of a man up on a ladder in the loft area. So, if he was thieving, he was picking the wrong place to start. If he was the contractor, that would make sense.

I unlocked, went inside and he came down and introduced himself: “I’m the electrician.” “Hi” I replied, “I’m the owner.”

He explained that he has family he is staying with this weekend up here and thought to come by and scope out the work for tomorrow to be sure he has everything and to avoid trips back and forth tomorrow. I suspect he still won’t have everything he needs to get done what he needs to tomorrow. That would result to a trip to the nearby town (a half hour away) I don’t recall any good sized stores there. Well, hopefully, between he and the general fix-it guy, they’ll have what they need.

He also informed me that the electrical panel right behind the toilet in the master (half) bath is totally outside code. I pointed out the county inspector signed off on it (he did), but he said again that it was totally in violation of the electrical codes to have the panel there. I asked what the alternatives where and he said outside, but that’s bad because it’s too wet out here. Not sure what, if anything, we can do about this now. Our inspector didn’t say anything about it, so I don’t have that leg to stand on.

Unloading the car

Getting ready to move the futon mattress. Rainy, wet, dark. Thinking “Well, this could go wrong in lots of different ways”.

Then, as if to prove the universe’s infinite ability to surprise me, as I started to pick up the futon, the universe demonstrated a brand new and unexpected way for things to go sideways.

I set off the emergency horn on the car. While it was honking over and over again, loudly, for what seemed like very, very long minutes, I was struggling with the keys. I managed to hit the unlock button on the remote. That didn’t stop it, unlike two other vehicles that behaved that way. I tried locking it again. Nothing but the unceasing honk of the horn in the otherwise quiet night. I tried getting in the car and starting it. Nope. Nothing.

Then, totally on a whim, I tried hitting the only other button I hadn’t yet already hit: the emergency button again. And it stopped! Ye gods!

Poked around this evening doing a few small projects inside. Stayed up till 10pm doing things. 10pm didn’t used to seem so late. Maybe it’s just because I’m up here all by myself and get tired because there’s no one to talk with. Yeah, maybe that’s it…

Note: It’s really, really dark out here if you turn off all the lights.

Next Morning

Need slippers! The floors are cold, even if the heat is up. At least in the dead of winter.
Alarm clock or clock of some sort in the bedroom. Only electrical clocks are on the appliances in the kitchen.
Heaters are noisy when they run and when they turn on. Woke me up several times.
Shower worked great. Fortunately we have towels, shampoo, conditioner and soap up here! Makes a guy feel human to start his day.
Stove stinks when heating up water!

Oatmeal and oranges for breakfast. Not that interesting, but probably much more healthy than many alternatives.

I can’t shake this notion that as we get older, we trade the pleasures of the flesh (good, rich food, bad habits) for the hope of living longer. And we hope that the trade is worthwhile in the long run with a better quality of life. The Grasshopper and the Ant teaches us to give up the joys of the immediate for the long term comfort of planning ahead. But, what if winter never comes? What if you don’t make it that far? But, by contrast, if you plan that way, what if it does? *sigh*

While sitting in the dining area futzing on my computer, I looked up and out the front to see a deer (“Doh! A deer! A female deer!”) walking across my field of view in front of the porch.
I kept still and she walked in front of the porch and around to the side.
Curious if she was still there, I peeked out the front side window and … hey! There’s two of them! And hey! They’re eating my shrubs!

My first instinct was to make a loud noise to scare them away, but first I took a couple pictures from inside the house (bad glare, so not good pictures). Then I slipped on my shoes and carefully and quietly slipped out the front door to take some pictures of them (without flash) by sneaking the camera over the railing.

About that time, the contractors showed up and I decided they’d had enough of a snack, so I said “Hello, ladies. How’s breakfast?”
At that point, they decided to exit stage left in search of someone else’s shrubs.
But, what a great thing to wake up to in the morning! I realize it’s only deer, but it’s still pretty darn cool!

Contractors (electrical and general fix-it guy) here at 9 am.

The fix-it guy said he saw three coyote on the way in and asked if I heard them singing last night. (I didn’t) But, again, how cool?

Mr Fix-it grunts, a lot, when he works. Also talks to himself. When he’s not talking to me or the electrician.

When the electrician noted that the sheetrock piece he was working on was all angles, Mr Fixit replies “A remodel like this: Ain’t nothing that’s plumb, level nor square!”

We need a couch. You need a couch before you can really relax. Plus I think I’ll try this heater/stove thing. It’s nippy up here, even though I have both heaters turned up to a reasonable level. I think it’s because my feet (which are only in socks) are cold.

It’s cold and nasty outside. Pretty darn grey day. But, hey! At least it’s not raining at the moment.

There is a lot of water running through the creek. Lots. It’s wide, fat, fast and brown. Doesn’t look like it’s in imminent danger of jumping the banks, but it’s not hard to imagine that if it did, the amount of damage that could do is significant!

The lower part of the property, the area down by the creek, is looking pretty nasty. It looks like it has been used by some people to get over to their property to perhaps salvage docks or something. I conclude this on the basis of the tire tracks filled with water down there. But, regardless, it’s wet and nasty and I do wonder how likely or possible it will be to turn that in to something useable.

I imagine filling in a good portion of it, having a gravel road/parking area below with stairs leading up to the house. Eventually adding the dock. Maybe a picnic table and/or a firepit down there.

All for not if that area is going to flood every few years.

It’s now raining/sleeting. In any case, bits of ice appear to be falling from the sky. I wish I could tell you it was nice or pretty, but really it just makes me glad I’m inside and warm.

Things accomplished on this trip:

  • Turned on water to house (must remember to turn it off when leaving!)
  • Wiped down floor where I got it wet
  • Put together dining room table. Dunno how well it will work. It’s high and the chairs have no backs.
  • Made bed
  • Cleaned toilet
  • Verified hot water is working
  • Set out plunger, toilet cleaner, bathroom garbage cans, kitchen garbage cans
  • Some kitchen stuff, more to put away tomorrow
  • Fixed slider on door blinds on right side front door
  • Raised light in the dining area so I don’t brain myself.

Things we still need:

  • Window blinds
  • Silverware insert (13 inch drawer)
  • Outside welcome mat
  • Outside wide broom
  • Ladder to loft

Longer Term:

  • Need to think about sealing deck, putting sand on for traction
  • Sandpaper strips on stairs from above (19 steps)
  • Back of main toilet: 4 inches clearance behind. 21 inch wide top of toilet. Can only go 52 inches, tops, along side of toilet before hit sloped wall
  • Back of master toilet: 5 inches, 21 wide, 60 inches before hit slope of wall
  • Remove unnecessary links in dining area light so it’s less unsightly.