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Thursday, December 18, 2014
This wall's ready to fall

Q. The enclosed photos show how the wall is leaning into the pond behind my house. It was built in 1973 and lately, from all the storms, it has gotten worse. What can I do to fix it, or do I have to replace it? On my fixed income, I’m afraid of the cost. Can you help?

A. I’m curious as to how you would expect that an aged wall made of jagged concrete block, and leaning so precariously that it looks as if any minute could be its last before it groans, tumble over and disappear under the water, could somehow be magically “fixed.” I was sorry to see the way your wall was built, and I realize how expensive and upsetting it is to you. I apologize for making light of your situation, but I find humor is pretty close to sadness — that laughter is close to crying.

After all these years of seeing really bad construction, I have to laugh to avoid something that grown men aren’t “supposed” to do, like crying or building stuff without any idea of what they’re doing. But they do. I just came from a house being rebuilt from flood damage. Open walls revealed that grown adults, without seeking any advice or using any common sense, did some amazingly careless things with plumbing pipes and floor structure, causing hidden sewage leaks into the walls that must have reeked for years. The stink caused the former owners to give up and sell, under market value, just to run away.

Then I returned to my office, saw your envelope, full of snapshots, and my first reaction was to say, “What was somebody thinking when they stacked concrete blocks with no internal support and no method of holding back the wall from the forces pushing against it?” (I said it a different way, but you get the idea.) Your retaining wall is missing structural support, except a couple of galvanized, rusted pipes jammed into the lake bed in front of the concrete block wall, leaning and bowed.

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