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.

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