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Dodged a bullet

At least I think I did. Hope I did. It’s a very slow-moving bullet, however. It’s a government bullet, and it might still be out there waiting to strike.

Not government as in feds battering down my front door. Just government as in bureaucrats at the county, the kind we all have to deal with now and then.

It’s a dirty little tale. Literally. Involving a septic tank.

My house, Ye Olde Wreck, shares a septic system with the house next door. An odd arrangement no modern bureaucrat would approve. But at the time (1970s, maybe earlier) it was an improvement over previous … erm, methods. The septic-tank guy, hereinafter called “Butch,” assures me that somewhere across both properties lie old pipes that once carried waste directly from bathroom to the wetland across the way.

So the shared system was a Modern Improvement sometime back, despite being highly “incorrect” now.

I knew about it when I bought the place. And it was not a problem. Because the house next door had burned down a couple months before I closed on Ye Wreck. It was an abandoned hulk with a giant hole in the roof and most of one wall gone.

Everybody knew it was beyond fixing. Everybody knew that someday either I or the neighbors on the other side would buy the lot, cart away the ruins, and use the land for a privacy buffer.

Then Andy came along. Andy specialized in doing the impossible with old houses.


Tl:DR, Andy and his wife, who live down the street, bought the place and restored it. Andy died. Andy’s widow, Neighbor J, sold the (now quite charming) house next door to a Californian.

She sold it two years ago and the buyer’s been living there all this time, but it’s been on a private contract pending the buyer coming up with the full downpayment. Now J and buyer are going through the official property transfer, complete with lawyer, title company — and county-required septic system inspection.

Which failed.

The problem was a very simple one: a broken pipe. That’s all. Dig up and replace that pipe … the system works. It’s an old, outdated, incorrectly shared system. But it works.

But are we allowed to just fix the pipe?

That depends entirely on bureaucrats.

The county has taken a fancy to engineered septic systems. They now require them for all new construction and for replacement systems. When Andy and J bought the house J now lives in (not the house next door), the county required them to spend $20,000 on an engineered system — that doesn’t even work properly! What gravity used to handle naturally, J now has to take care of, going outside to flip a switch every one to three days, depending on whether she’s on her own or hosting guests. Ridiculous. Absurd. Totally nuts.

And in an extended power outage … no plumbing. Stupid, stupid, stupid.


For the last couple months Neighbor J, the buyer next door, and I have faced this prospect: We might be “allowed” to replace the broken pipe (about $2,000 split between the three of us). But county ‘crats could — completely on whim — require both houses to have their own separate engineered septic systems.

J and the buyer next door both have money for that sort of thing — though J could also lose the sale of the house over it, should the buyer balk. I, on the other hand, would very likely have had to sell my house to pay for the “improvement.” (Yet not be able to sell because you can’t sell a house that doesn’t have a county-approved septic system, can you?)

There were some in-between possibilities, too, like being allowed to share one engineered system. But it was not a happy time, waiting for Judgment Day.

Finally, after weeks of delay, the county said we could try to fix the pipe. But if that didn’t work, the good old gravity system would have to go and it would be time to hire engineers. That was a month ago. It’s been too wet to do the needed excavation since then.

More TL;DR. Butch finally sent a crew and a flatbed full of equipment yesterday. I wasn’t here. I didn’t know they were coming (J has blessedly handled all the logistics) and I’d picked that day to run errands in the Big City. I was glad not to be here. I’d have been a nervous wreck. I came home from the City, tippy-toed through the mud and giant tire tracks … and discovered that they’d dug out, then covered up, the site of the break.

The fact that they covered it back up means the operation was successful. (They’d have left the excavation open had something gone wrong.) The crews were going to take photos and submit them to the ‘crats.

Now we just have to wait for approval from the gods — and a bill from Butch that, no matter how high it is, will be a blessing compared with the alternative. There is still a chance that a ‘crat could raise an objection. But the fact that that hole in the ground was covered is a good sign. And we (mostly J) chose Butch because he’s an honorable guy who has a well-established rapport with ‘crats.

Our local governments are generally very reasonable to deal with (aside from “environmental” requirements that put many aspects of living beyond the means of ordinary people — but the state drives much of that). This is not against them as individuals. But it most certainly is against ridiculous “systems,” both septic and governmental (but I repeat myself).

We had a simple broken pipe. It needed to be fixed; no sensible person would think otherwise. Why could we not just find it, fix it, and move on with life? Why did three households (and why do we still) have to await Divine Judgment to fix an obvious problem with an obvious solution? Why were we left suspended between an easy fix and the prospect of a catastrophic Edict from On High?

‘Cause “That’s what governments are for — get in a man’s way.”


  1. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 1, 2018 7:38 am

    I remember vividly the day we called a septic pumper outfit to come out when our septic system suddenly backed up. They discovered that our “system” was two 55 gallon metal drums. No leach line, nothing. The drums had finally disintegrated from rust, and the pumper guy was astonished they’d ever worked as well as they did. The replacement was very difficult and costly, and our landlord was not amused. I suspect he put in the drums himself at some point, but don’t know. He raised the rent considerably, of course, and we eventually bought a place of our own.

    And that, of course, was long before the local “government” decided to dictate how everyone blew their noses…

  2. Ruth
    Ruth February 1, 2018 8:02 am

    Oh god, septic……

    when we bought our house the former owners told us the tank was new, less than 5yrs old. And the system passed the dye test, so its all good, right?

    No one told us that the leach is an ancient grandfathered system. Local septic companies will empty the tank for us (which is less than half the size it SHOULD be for a house this size), but if anything else ever goes wrong they won’t touch it. The whole system will have to be pulled and redone. To the tune of over $10k because it’s going to require a raised bed system due to water table and soil permeability……

  3. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran February 1, 2018 8:21 am

    I hope the local government bureaucrats approve the fix, Claire!

    Back in the 1960s, I had a friend whose family owned a seasonal cottage on Conesus Lake, one of the Finger Lakes south of Rochester. Back in those days, the sewer lines dumped sewage into the lake and the intake water lines were out just a bit further. Not a good situation for the environment or health and safety. The government decided to decree that all of those cottages install septic systems. This cause\d fire sales on Conesus Lake property because back then, the septic systems cost nearly as much as the cottages and property. That’s not so anymore as property values and taxes have soared for lakefront property and a good many of those blue collar affordable cottages have been bought up and leveled, replaced by pricey custom homes and McMansions.

  4. firstdouglas
    firstdouglas February 1, 2018 8:32 am

    Wow. And whew, I guess. But I’m guessing there can’t be that many counties across the country anymore where one could expect such a “happy” outcome.

    Until these last number of years I’d lived in apartments long enough to have lost touch with just how stringent our masters oversight of our property had become. However, now that my current place–though perfectly comfortable and liveable–is needing several repairs, I’m hesitating to ask for professional help until certain I can fully pay for the repairs.

    I’m a bit worried that in the same way that health care workers can be required to tattle about certain of their patients’ conditions, so might some licensed contractors face similar reporting rules. Maybe that’s over-worrying, but I wouldn’t like to loose that certificate of livability, or whatever it is they are calling a home’s permission slip these days.

  5. ~Qjay
    ~Qjay February 1, 2018 10:43 am

    My sympathies for the possibility of the “engineered system”, but congrats on the rest of it, except the broken pipe! .
    I do hope you don’t have too much hassle, but I know my own septic woes are looking pretty serious due to the previous owner’s deferred maintenance…
    Good luck, Claire!

  6. Fred M.
    Fred M. February 1, 2018 10:52 am

    It’s not unusual to run across systems that are old and grandfathered. In your case and Neighbor J’s case this means that any significant increase in the volume of waste that goes into the joint septic system would probably trigger a requirement to bring the system up to code. I am nor aware of any jurisdiction that won’t allow minimal repair to an old system to keep it functioning. I am sure that some of the disagreements that property owners have had with local government over the years have been adjudicated in the property owners interest and are now case law. However in your instance, and for the future, the first thing you need to find out is on whose property the septic and leech lines are located. If they are on your property then this disagreement with the powers that be is primarily a problem with your Neighbor J. If the systems are all on Neighbor J’s property then you could be drawn into having to upgrade your system. At this point I would just wait and see what will happen, if anything. When I lived in Alaska many years ago as a result of the high groundwater in the area there was in use a primary septic system for residences. The effluent went through three baffles and by the time it got to the end it was 99% pure. It was so pure that the homeowners along the channel were prohibited by the Corps of Engineers from discharging the effluent into the channels (where there was a tidal difference of 22′ between tides) because the purer water would upgrade the channel water which wasn’t as clean. Go figure!

  7. fred
    fred February 1, 2018 11:10 am

    Said a prayer for you and your neighbour,dont know where you stand on that,but it has to be good karma at least.Good luck,something is telling me you are OK.I think you have a run of good luck coming your way.

  8. Claire
    Claire February 1, 2018 11:15 am

    “the first thing you need to find out is on whose property the septic and leech lines are located.”

    They are on the property Neighbor J is selling. However, my house is hooked to the system and the terms of my deed give me equal responsibility for maintenance and repair. J, who is well aware that she triggered this with the house sale, has actually done us both the favor of getting the buyer to agree to cover part of the cost.


    Thanks for the good wishes and head-shaking experiences, all. I hope none of you get stuck with too much in the form of septic problems or government-permit problems of your own. It’s certainly getting more common.

  9. Bibamufu
    Bibamufu February 1, 2018 1:16 pm

    In Iowa when you sell your house the septic system is pumped out, inspected and must be brought up to code. they require a perc. test, 1200 gallon tank and 300 feet of leach field on your own property. This is normally the responsibility of the seller. If the system is up to code they will still make sure that everything is working and that the distribution box is positioned properly. A typical system here runs from $9000 and up. If you were in Iowa the neighbor would have to put in there own system and then so would you. So if you get off just fixing the pipe you are very lucky.

  10. Claire
    Claire February 1, 2018 3:29 pm

    Oh, well. That’s definitely a [ahem] load off my mind, Comrade. 😉

  11. Mike
    Mike February 1, 2018 4:33 pm

    Claire I’ve had to teal with a very many problems with the town employees where I live when we were building, so I understand where you’re coming from. You have my sympathies.

    It has been seventeen years since my wife and I built our home and to this day i still have a hate on for the town. The final straw was when the inspector failed out deck because the railing was one eighth of an inch too short. We said the hell with it and after construction was done we moved in without having an occupancy permit. The occupancy permit was later granted to stop a lawsuit by me against the town.

    Good luck Clair I hope it turns out in your favor

  12. StevefromMA
    StevefromMA February 1, 2018 7:00 pm

    Good luck, Claire. Here, everyone is below current code and needs to pay $15-20k for a big, awful project when they sell.

    I don’t have a feel for the Cabal at this point so I will post this very intense free documentary URL here. It is speaking to the choir here but I learned a few awful things I didn’t know. Heavy handed but gets the job done.

  13. fred
    fred February 3, 2018 3:08 am

    Steve-Your link is indeed the future.I keep saying it,Prince’s and Serfs. When ‘they’ finally annihilate 3 billion people…..or just eliminate reproduction by putting BPA in every can lining of food…..its not coming,its here!

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