Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Back to the Drawing Board

We seem be to going around in circles at the Farmlet at the moment, which I imagine must be a bit frustrating for you who take the time to read this. Unfortunately that's the sorry tale that is to be told, so unless I choose to say nothing at all, it's what you get ;-)

As a bit of a test I called up the Council yesterday to challenge them about the need for 50m of RG2 roadway connected to the intersection. Council's policies (I should point out that they are new policies only accepted by Council back in May) state that the old RG1 standard of single lane gravel road is now non-existent, except for right-of-way situations serving only an average of 16 vehicle movements per day. The result of the conversation was as useful as I'd expected. I was told that for each allotment the average was 8 movements per day, how people would use 8 vehicle movements per day I don't know, some people obviously drive way to much! Even if we dropped the kids off and picked them up from school that's only 4 movements per day, and living in the country if you drive out to drop the kids off then you keep on going if you need to. As there were two allotments up our lane (and it seems we have to pay for both of them) this equates to 16 movements in total, and the RG1 standard was only applicable for less than 16.

I tossed and turned last night rather than sleeping, and then realised just after midnight that the Council offers a 2 movement discount to encourage development. Silly me for missing that in our conversation.

First thing this morning I called up a business that does road building to get a ballpark figure on how much the roadworks were going to cost. At the end of it we arrived at about fifteen thousand dollars to do the upgrade (yes, $15,000) all of which should have been levied on the guy doing the subdivision. Strangely, all of which was levied on the guy doing the subdivision, and was passed on to us in the purchase price. Hence our extreme reluctance to spend more money on it. But I'm getting the distinct impression that Council aren't overly concerned about spending our money for us.

I called the Council guy back again after finding out this sum, but was directed to voicemail. I'm figuring that the calling number display alerts them to the fact that it's me so they avoid taking the call now. I left a message outlining the reason for the call, particularly to discuss the fact that he hadn't taken into account our supposed discount, and indicating that I would like a call back to discuss the issue.

After much discussion with DW we came up with a last resort plan. I don't expect the response from Council to be positive. It hasn't been to date, and even the most positive things have carried with them heavy burdens in the way of additional conditions, typically to make up for all the stuff they forgot in previous versions. There's a special brand of ineptitude being cultivated up there.

So our cunning plan is to ditch the shed development consent and to build the shed under the new NSW exempt development rules. The certifier was pretty certain that Council's idea of legal access to the block was flawed and that the current state of the access shouldn't hinder building under those rules.

This eliminates all of the conditions that have been applied to the shed, including the road upgrade. We then fall back to the conditions on the original house consent which included the stock grids and the BAR/BAL intersection. I'm guesstimating that more than half of the cost of the works would be tied up in the 50m of roadway, so for roughly $7,000 we should be able to upgrade the intersection. Another $6,000 for putting in the stock grids, and we arrive at a total of $14,000 of work.

Sure, that looks pretty close to the other number, give or take a thousand.

Did I neglect to mention that in addition to the road upgrade we also needed to fence off the road reserve? I've estimated that at $5,000 odd dollars for materials, so the total for upgrading the road and fencing would be (conservatively) around $20,000. This way it stops at $14,000.

An additional benefit would be the scrapping of the new condition that was applied to the house consent (which is a dubiously legal condition at best, so I've been informed), which required that we do the roadworks before pouring the footings on the house. Under this new plan (which is a lot like the old one) we can do most of the house before having to worry about roadworks.

So I keyed a letter off to our certifier to request clarification on all of our understandings and intuitions, and now await a reply from both people. Whilst I wait I'm left to ponder the situation. Perhaps there is something we haven't achieved that we should have, and so we are being sent in circles until that achievement is made? The universe, by way of a friend, was kind enough to supply us with building materials, tools and other goodies on the weekend, so it's still looking after us, there's little doubt about that. There must be other processes in motion, things happening behind the scenes that need to catch up and arrive at a particular point for us to move onward.

So, depending on the answer to my email and phone calls, we might not be proceeding with locating the shed in the spot that we've picked out and done work to clear up. Not such a bad thing perhaps, though I've now got to go back to the drawing board and pick another spot (more than 15m from any boundaries IIRC). Tricky on our hilly country, but as you might have guessed, I don't mind a challenge, though I'd prefer it if it wasn't the same challenge over and over and over again...

Monday, 20 July 2009

Two New Trees

I began the weekend without any real idea of what I was going to get up to. The family is all away on holidays, so I had to take into account that I needed to be around to feed the animals at the FSF, so spending the whole weekend camping at the new block was out of the question. In the end I decided I'd nip out to the block on Saturday and plant a couple of trees and chop some firewood.

Planting trees out there is quite an involved job. Not so simple as digging a hole and bunging the tree in, that's for sure. That's part of it, but once that bits done then it's a matter of preparing an apple bin by removing part of the base so that it can fit neatly over the tree. Then a couple of posts are hammered in around it, and then mesh is strung around the posts. Finally a row of rocks or timber is laid against the two sides of the bin that aren't enclosed all the way to the ground.

The Stone Pine

What all this effort? Well, goats and hares of course. Both would make a quick meal out of the young trees, and at this stage of the game there is no point fencing off large swathes of land for tree planting as we'd never be able to keep up with the maintenance. So for now we're going to stick with a few strategic trees in apple-bin safety systems.

These are the first trees we've planted out there since just after we got the block, when we planted the commemorative oak. The two new trees are placed in strategic positions. Another oak has gone in, this time in the spot that is going to become the oak grove, just down the hill from the house. The other was a stone pine (Pinus pinea) and it went in the spot where we're going to have a grove of, well, stone pines...

They're not much use on their own as poor isolated trees, but they are intended to be symbolic more than practical at this stage. In future, whenever I look at, or wander past those spots I'll be thinking to myself "there's the stone pine grove" and so on. It helps cement the idea and the vision in place in my mind, and that helps make the reality so much easier to create.

The only features that actually exist on this plan are the boundary fences,
and even they're not necessarily in the right place...

Had tea in town on Saturday night with the parent's in-law, and arranged to pick up the next day a load of bent and rusty old star posts that were on offer. When I arrived to do this the stack turned out to be a lot bigger than expected, and there was a concrete strainer thrown in with it, which would have been a bit big to be unloading at home and then reloading to take out another weekend, so Sunday was spent with another drive out to the new block to unload the bounty.

All-in-all a great weekend, though perhaps not as productive as possible given most of it was spent driving around. Seems to be the common theme over the last few months, more time driving than working. Still, with the number of posts gifted to me I should be able to put a fence around the orchard out there, and then some, which gets us that one step closer, and that's always a good thing!

In other news we've got our construction certificate for the shed now, so we can begin whenever we please. Problem being that I've got to go to Sydney this Friday, to return on Saturday arvo, and then will be spending Sunday with the family for the first time in almost two weeks. Maybe I can convince them we need to be catching up over some nice hard digging out on site :-)

Bolt Gets It Right

Andrew Bolt, columnist for the Herald Sun [blog], and frequent talking head on various TV shows, has got one right.

I was "lucky" enough to catch him on one of the TV news-faux-mercials this morning.

Generally he has little idea about the problems facing our world and society, arguing against human-induced climate change for instance, and overall having very little understanding about how the underlying problems of resource depletion have created the troubles we see all around us. Ask him what a war on terror is about and he's sure to think it has something to do with bombings by radicalized groups, failing to make the connection that it's more about subduing the terror that arises in the hearts of all patriotic westerners when they think of going without their privleges, all of which are thanks to oil.

Well folks, this morning he got it right. He uttered words so profound I was momentarily flabbergasted.

He subtley pointed out that last night's win on MasterChef was more a demographic decision than a true judgment of the skill of the participants. Perhaps he has finally found his niche, a spot in the heady world of international affairs where his incisive insights can be put to truly beneficial use.


Monday, 13 July 2009

The Party & The Cleanup

The big birthday party was a bit of a success. I spent the Friday afternoon and evening cooking up some treats and preparing the meat, so on the day we started with profiteroles, then had lunch of fennel pork belly and roast vegetables, following that with a birthday cake (fudge chocolate with vienna filling and icing and a bit of blackberry jam) and a piece of lemon meringue pie (sadly the lemon bit was runny, but it was still edible). We all enjoyed the time together, the weather was nice enough, not the sunny days of the week before, it was overcast and a bit chilly, but still nice all the same. All in all a top event!

After the main festivities were completed we sat around the campfire into the early evening, roasting marshmallows with the kids until their bedtime, then it was quiet time with the brother, listening to some old hits on the local radio station, sampling some red wine, singing to the better tunes. Campfire time was cut short when "I can't stand the rain" began to play, and, inevitably, it began to rain.

Sunday dawned cloudy, and after a suitable period of morning recuperation I packed up copious amounts of hot water for coffee and set off to the new land, hoping to get through most of the preparatory work needed in getting the shed site ready to go.

Shed site before. It is going to sit across the picture, and the bins further
back will impinge upon it's footprint. The fence to be removed runs from the
second post on the right across the picture to the left.

Started out with measuring up the location for the shed according to the submitted plans. I'd made a couple of last minute on-paper changes to the location to accommodate some other tentative future plans, so I needed to know where the shed was really going to go. Once this was sorted out it was on to removing the small fence that formed the back boundary of the shed yard. As the first picture shows, there's also a lot of materials stored in the region of the shed site. Once the fence was down all of these needed to be moved, which was the largest part of the job. There must have been a couple of ton of steel in there at least.

Shed site after. The fence is gone and all the resources are moved into a neat stash
out of the way. You can just make out, if your eyes are sharp, some white posts,
far left cutting across the shadow, in front of the right-most bin, and then a
couple more cunningly hidden on the mid-right.

Amazingly I made it through it all, and had time to chop a small load of wood before dark. Then it was off for home again. The next major action on the shed project should be getting the earthworks done, which will most likely involve a bit of (internal) road building as well.

Below is a picture, for no particular reason at all, of the wonderful old sawmill we were gifted with. It's going to need a bit of work before it runs again though... Nice old piece of machinery all the same.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Step 2(a) - CC & Fencing

We've got the ball rolling to get a construction certificate so we can put up the shed. It should be finalised by the end of the week if all goes well. We wont be able to get any real work started until the weekend after the next one, as we are celebrating a family birthday which will consume a large proportion of the weekend. And well it should, celebrations are very important things!

The weekend just gone started out rainy and cold, so Saturday, apart from visiting the poultry show in Orange, was spent in the shed tinkering on a project (sorry, cannot reveal this one as it is the present for the aforementioned celebration).

Sunday dawned cold but dry (except for the ground which was a slushy mess, which is proper for winter, finally). I set out for the block with the intention of installing the patch of boundary fence needed so I can open up the end of the shed yard so the bulldozer driver can push dirt to the correct spots, and collecting a little firewood.

The fencing was a challenge, 100 odd metres of fence, constructed in a new style. I'm used to fencing to exclude sheep and dogs, not goats which present a problem as they get their heads stuck in the fence due to their horns, so they need a particular sized netting to minimise this problem. Unfortunately I also took on board some other suggestions, and my experience and skill was not up to the new process.

The new fence is on the left. The shed site is behind the tree in the distance.

It went up in the end, but it's a bit floppy in the belly because I couldn't get a tight enough strain on it. As I was running out of time I had to tie it up and leave it as it was. It wont be experiencing stock pressure from within for a while, and only cattle and sheep on the far side so it will do it's thing, but it's not my finest fence. With luck I will get a chance to do some remedial work to it down the track, but I'd say after I've finished the shed!

I still need to remove the scrap of fence that is in the way, and then shift some of the stockpile so that the shed site is clear and there is enough room to push dirt around. Then comes the real challenge of the job, that of getting the site level. There is about a 40cm drop from front to back of the shed footprint. What's worse is that the area in front of the shed is probably 40cm - 60cm higher out to 4m from the opening. We can't have drainage issues, nobody wants water flowing through their work and storage space, so we're going to need to creatively shift dirt around to avoid this issue. That's the challenge for the next free weekend...

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Victory, Sort Of...

The new development consent arrived in the mail today. It largely fulfills the agreed outcomes of the meeting with Council, excepting the fact that they've inserted a clause that means we have to upgrade 50m of the laneway along with the intersection, to the new standard. I guess it's Council policy to provide a little bit of punishment with every success. You might think you've reached an agreement with them, but it seems they're always going to try and squeeze a little more out of you. At least we don't have to upgrade half a kilometre of laneway...

All in all, the result is good enough for now. We can get ourselves a construction certificate and build the shed, which was the original goal of the project. Once we've completed that bit, it might be time to take the whole sordid tale to the mayor and his cohorts, and then to the media, and see if we can get some of those conditions altered further in our favour. After all, I was reading in Council's business paper that they've approved the new road specifications, and it states that RG1 roads will only be allowed for right-of-way lanes and those experiencing less than 16 vehicle movements per day, contrary to the guy's statement that the RG1 standard no longer applies at all. We wont stir the nest for now, we can proceed with our plans for a bit until we run up against the requirements of the new conditions, but at some stage we're going to need a better reckoning, just for the principle of the thing. If we let them get away with it, who's next on the list to suffer?

So, from here, it's construction certificate, then a bit of earthworks, then some building. I'll need to put in a bit of extra fence before then, hopefully I'll be able to do that this weekend, and I must also shift some of our stockpile around so that the dozer can get in there and push the dirt where it needs to go. Exciting, productive work, rather than the mental gymnastics and social sorties required to date.