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Posted by Mary in PA on 7/31/2010

I had posted a while back about the problems with an existing farm terrace on our property. After considering our options over the winter, we decided to eliminate the terrace on our property by re-grading the farm field. In early spring, I asked the Conservation District out to our site to review our plan to keep it all on the up and up. After some discussion, they provided their blessings on our plan.


I also got an estimate from the excavator to include the farm-terrace work in our site work (driveway and building pad) and was pleasantly surprised at the reasonable cost. The excavator said that since the terrace had been man-made, it would be easy to fix (i.e. no rocks or ledge under it) and he would have heavy equipment at the site anyway – no problem. Great!


Some months later when the excavation actually got underway (a couple of weeks ago), I guess I had really no idea what was involved in fixing the terrace. They stripped 700’ long by about 50’ wide and at least 6” deep of topsoil, and put it in one hugely long and high pile. Then they re-graded the subsoil and finally replaced the topsoil so I could seed it. The topsoil pile was clearly evident from the main road. Heck, you could probably have seen it from space, like the Great Wall of China. John joked that we should tell the neighbors we were starting a strip-mining operation.


And then it rained. So there was delay to let the soil dry out enough for them to finish. So it dawned on me – duh... maybe I should have cleared this amount of site work through the zoning department too (not just the Conservation District). But honestly, I was thinking of this as agricultural work and not really part of the building project, per se. Well, too late now. I just hoped they would get it all done soon before any neighbors complained.


Unbeknownst to me, the building inspector was driving by the property the evening after that rainstorm and saw all that topsoil piled up. He thought, what are they doing… and where is all this topsoil coming from?! He even called up the zoning officer to ask if he knew what was going on… and of course he didn’t. Yikes. So the inspector drove onto the property to, well, inspect. And promptly got stuck in the mud of the excavated terrace. Double Yikes!


If you’re thinking this may all end badly with permits being withdrawn and fines being levied – it didn’t. A few days later when I met the inspector for the first time (here was there to check footings). He related the stuck-in-the-mud story to me and to his credit he was able to chuckle about it. I heartily apologized that I hadn’t notified him about the field work and explained what we were doing and why… and that I had had the Conservation District out to approve the plan before we started. Turns out our inspector has lived on a farm all his life in a neighboring county and completely understood and then we chatted about the Conservation District and other Ag-related things. He said he would call the zoning officer to let him know it was all OK. When I got home I also made a follow-up call to the zoning officer… just to make sure he knew what we were doing and to see if I needed to get any post-work permits… but he was cool with it. So it all worked out well in the end.


I’m currently reseeding the newly-graded non-terrace with oats. These will germinate quickly to prevent erosion and then die over the winter. We’ll frost-seed our permanent pasture in the very early spring and hopefully in a season or two it will be impossible to tell this work was ever done. Yippee!


Hubby for scale. That's a long, high topsoil pile.
Does it look like a massive strip mine? Yikes!
And from the other end of the terrace.
Nearly done. No more ditch (terrace), just a gentle grade down the slope.
Finishing up, moving topsoil back so I can seed it.

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