Moving To An Area Which Has No Building Code

The Lost Ways

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This upon first glance seems like the easiest, most sensible solution to the problem. It might even work. On the other hand it might not, either. If not, it will leave you embittered and frustrated beyond description.

Why might it not work? Because one by one the various areas are adopting the code. It is quite possible for you to buy land, and in perhaps the six months it takes you to get your project started, find that the code has been passed. Codes are being adopted in some areas over virtually unanimous local opposition. Unlikely? Impossible in democratic America? Listen to what has been happening in my own county in Northern Idaho these past several years.

When I first built underground in 1971 there was no problem; there were no legal restrictions. Then sometime around 1974 or '75 the Federal Government stepped into the picture and began to pressure the county commissioners to adopt the Uniform Building Code. There was even greater pressure, however, on the commissioners to resist. Farmers and ranchers were afraid that they would not be able to build pole barns. Homesteaders were afraid that the codes would be used to harass them. Loggers and retired military personnel didn't like their freedoms messed with. Senior citizens knew that it would jack the price of a home up to the point where they could not build. Virtually everyone in the county bitterly resented eastern suburbanites, who have little concept of real life, dictating to them how they should live. People in a few areas in America are still fiercely independent. The people of Boundary County are among these.

So the commissioners said "no" they would not adopt the Uniform Building Code.

Then the federal authorities began a devious campaign of harassment and intimidation worthy of a bunch of narcotics agents. As reported in the county newspaper, the feds told the commissioners that if they didn't adopt the codes they would each, as individuals, be open to devastating lawsuits in case of flood.

The feds' reasoning went like this: If the Uniform Building Code was not adopted, the residents of Boundary County would not be eligible for Federal Flood Plain Insurance. If the residents did not have Federal Flood Plain Insurance and their homes were wiped out by flood, then the commissioners were at fault and could be sued for everything they had then, and would ever have.

Never noted for great cerebral activity, the commissioners were aghast. That people shouldn't build in flood plains seemed beside the point. That there were private insurance companies did not console them. That the federal authorities themselves were the real ones who were stopping the insurance, since they could insure any home they wished with the scratching of a pen, did not occur to them. The commissioners walked around with worried frowns on their faces. They lost sleep at night. Simple folk—store keepers, farmers, retired policemen—they were intimidated. If the feds said that they would lose everything that they had, then it was probably so. The feds were, after all, the biggest guys on the block.

The threat was simple, cunning and terrifying. It was not, however, completely effective. The commissioners feared one thing still more. They feared losing the next election. There may have even been an element of bravery, or defiance, though to suggest this possibility aloud in our county would be to elicit considerable behind-the-hand sniggering. At any rate, to their credit, the commissioners continued to resist.

So the federal government moved the campaign down state. They took it to the state capitol. I'm not sure what pressure tactics the bureaucrats and administrators used— probably part of it was the threat to cut off all federal funds, a favorite form of federal intimidation which is particularly vicious since they blackmail the people with their own money, forcibly collected—but somehow after months of arm twisting they coerced the state legislators into accepting the Uniform Building Code, no doubt to the great relief of county commissioners all over the state who now felt that the pressure was off. This was doubtless part of the federal strategy.

There was immediate uproar. Farmers screamed because they could no longer build pole barns. Homesteaders, loggers, retired military personnel, senior citizens . . . everyone was yelling. The individual state legislators were in danger of losing the next election. So they interpreted the law to apply only to parcels of land under five acres. Everything over five acres was considered to be a farm and as such was declared to be exempt from the building codes. This calmed the uproar somewhat since most Idahoans have land. The others are city people who sit in front of television sets at every conceivable moment shoveling potato chips into their mouths agape. People of this latter group are already intimidated, burned out. Their highest form of political commitment is to pick their noses during the evening news. If the federal government ordered them to stand on their heads two hours per day you would see long lines of them, feet waving in the air.

So there the law lay for six months or a year. Then someone—the state's attorney, I think it was—responding to who knows what pressure, decided that this interpretation of the law was illegal. Farms too, he ruled, would have to come under the

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