The Last Word on Life at the Lake: How Much Work Could a Dock Be?

When we decided to relocate to the lake, my wife put herself in charge of the house and me in charge of the dock. Great, I thought, how hard could it be to get a dock? We didn’t want anything special, and docks look to me like nothing but fancy pallets. I figured it’d take a weekend and not cost too much. 

Two weeks later I started making phone calls. The first guy who I managed to get on the phone hung up on me when I told him my budget. He didn’t even take the time to laugh in my face, he just hit the “end call” button and went on with his life. 

The next guy who I got on the phone asked my budget, and I said something that I thought would be astronomically high. He said their docks start at three times my budget and the wait time to get on their project list was a year long anyway. 

So, I chose to go a non-traditional route — I’d build it myself. A few minutes of research online helped me find a few “dock in a box” kits. I sketched out my dock on a piece of graph paper, scanned it, and sent it to Duke Energy for my permit. 

That’s when I found out you need to have a building permit in order to apply for a Duke Energy dock permit. And even though the woman who worked at the permitting office in my county was very polite, she made it clear that my graph paper drawing did not meet the minimum requirements. She said I’d need “Engineer-stamped plans” to get my building permit. 

And that’s when I found out there’s an online cottage industry of engineers willing to put their stamp on just about any engineered plans for a low fee of $100. So, I sent two of these engineers my graph paper drawing. Even in the fast-and-loose gray market of buying engineer stamps, these guys wouldn’t even have anything to do with me.

Just when I thought my dreams of owning a reasonably priced dock had been destroyed by red tape and bureaucracy, I discovered that when people build huge beautiful new docks, they sell their old junky docks on Craigslist. I found one, and the woman who I ended up buying an old floating dock from even said her “dock guy” would install it for me at a reasonable price. I discovered it’s a lot easier to get building and Duke permits when the dock has been floating in the lake for 15 years.

In the end her dock guy’s price was reasonable, at least compared to what new docks cost. This dock guy no-showed for three appointments. Then he came to my house when I was away and installed the dock in the wrong spot using pylons that were about 10 feet too long and had to be cut down to size later. 

I’m sure there’s a good life lesson in there somewhere, but the only one I learned is: “Don’t put me in charge of building a dock.”

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