Letter Re: Dealing With Local Building Inspectors

I’ve been in construction and construction management on projects all across the country since the 1970s. Generally, I try to maintain good relations with the local zoning and building authorities. You really don’t want the inspector to come out and stop a scheduled concrete pour because he caught you trying to cut some stupid corner, or sneak something by him when you thought he was not looking. Having been an inspector, I am always looking…

But…when the time comes to build my little citadel out in the middle of nowhere, I have mixed thoughts about how completely truthful I want to be when I go to the county building for the plan review session. The house, partially buried and bermed for insulation and energy efficiency, and the basement workshops and storage areas and garages and greenhouses and solar panels and windmills and top-of-the-hill cistern and irrigation piping for the vegetable garden will all show up on the stamped plans that I will submit for review.

However, I’m not so certain that I want the locals to have any inkling about some of the more important underground facilities. Only a few adult family members and the most trusted co-conspirators know about the soon-to-be-buried weapons development and manufacturing facility, the chemistry lab, the hidden escape tunnels, and certain other items that only a paranoid survivalist would want to have.

I know the county flies photomapping sweeps every so often to compare what was there last year with what is there now, so the proper property taxes may be assessed on any obviously new construction. The nice man drives up in the county pickup truck and looks around the property, but usually doesn’t ask to see what’s inside the new building; it’s all just how many square feet and how many bathrooms do they need to assess.

If I remove a hundred cubic yards of clay from the future location of my new commo bunker (actually a steel shipping container with a Faraday cage to block out the EMP –you gotta read Forstchen’s new novel One Second After–I can spread it around in a fairly thin layer that won’t trigger any alarms in the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) system or cause any head scratching at the USGS when the time comes to update their contour maps, or it could just be backfill material trucked in from off site to berm up around the buildings that are on the official plans.

So, it is theoretically possible to present what looks like a small homestead (to be assessed at a fairly low rate for property tax) to the county authorities for their review and approval, but also stick in a few added features that absolutely nobody outside of the group must know about. If nobody knows about the hidden stash of weapons, food, medical supplies, fuel, toilet paper, etc., then nobody with even bigger guns is going to come looking for all our most valuable loot. But, if the building inspector tells his boss at the county building that the new survivalist nuts at the end of the road have what looks like Blofeld’s secret command center from a James Bond movie… well, all bets are off, aren’t they?

So, here’s my question to all you good folks who’ve been at this for a few more years than I have:

How have you approached this issue? Completely open and up front? Mostly up front but with some secret hidden facilities? Have you completely ignored the local authorities and just hope that they don’t bust you? And what do you do about visitors to your home accidentally stumbling across the hidden access tunnel entrance under the basement stairs? A nd don’t tell me the thought hasn’t crossed your minds. – TANSTAAFL

JWR Replies: In several western states there are no building permits required, at least outside of city limits. In these states, all that the tax officials seem to care about is the aggregate square footage, and the number of bathrooms. Beyond that, what you build is your own business.