August 14, 2013 by Yugen
The report that we had hoped would be available last week from the US Forest Service has still not materialized. In fact, we are now unsure if there is even going to be the public meeting as it transpires that the team who put together the report have already disbanded. All of our attempts to make contact with members of the Forest Service team have met with no response. However, we made contact with a geo-technical engineering firm who were successful in contacting the lead of the Forest Service BAER team (Burned Area Emergency Recovery) which is how we learned that they had disbanded. This is a very frustrating situation for us as we understood there would be a report and a public meeting and these things would take place promptly, allowing us to get on with the rebuild process.
David Zimmerman, former Tassajara Zen Center Director and current Program Director at San Francisco Zen Center, has been a massive help over the past few weeks. In 2008, a fire swept through Tassajara and the surrounding lands inland from the Big Sur coast. The story is quite amazing: five priests remained behind to fight the fire and were able to save the majority of the buildings. After the fire, they faced a similar situation to that which we currently face. The BAER report recommended that they should not remain at the center, so they hired independent experts for a second opinion. The geo-technical engineering firm we are in touch with are the ones who worked with Tassajara after the fire. It transpires that the Forest Service reports tend to veer on the conservative side and deal with broad-stroke generalizations, mainly about Forestry land as opposed to any neighboring privately held land. Based on the findings of the geo-technical engineers and hydrologists, Tassajara undertook the recommended work and were able to get through all the subsequent winters with no major damage. David also supplied us with the outline and cost of the work they had done by a local construction company to protect the buildings from rock fall, debris flow and flooding. It was not cheap.
We have been given a proposal by the geo-technical engineering team which is designed to keep the price as low as possible (they realize our financial position is fragile right now) by the team doing as much initial research as possible prior to a site visit, which may or may not be necessary based on their findings. If a site visit occurs, they would then be able to make specific recommendations regarding buildings and infrastructure. This is, when it comes down to it, the information we really need. The first thing we need to establish is whether it is safe for us to stay here. If it is, then we need to figure out whether we can realistically afford to do the work that would need to be done to make it safe to stay here. If we pass through this barrier as well, we then need to draw up a plan of action based on these professional recommendations as to what to do and where to start. Even if we hire this firm right away, it would still take 3-4 weeks before we would receive any findings as they will be drawing data from the Forest Service report (if they can access it to some degree in its current unpublished status) as well as some modeling that is being done by the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) along side existing soil data, burn intensity data and aerial photography. The estimate for the work is around $5,000 but if a site visit is needed and if we require a full technical memorandum, the cost will increase accordingly. How much it may increase is not yet clear as the engineer we have been dealing with, Reid, has put in a request within their organization that some of the cost of travel time is not billed as we are a nonprofit and he wants to help us out, but he has not heard back yet so we don't have a sense of what the cost of a site visit may be. After such a fantastic response from the fundraiser, we are in a position where we can afford to pay these initial fees and it seems like it is really the only option to move forward with the reassurance of professional opinion and information.
We have cancelled all of our guest groups through April 2014. The first group we have scheduled now is for the weekend of May 1st, 2014. We decided it wasn't fair on the groups to wait and see, as for them, finding new locations for their retreats will get harder the longer they have to wait. We don't want to risk the safety of any guests, or risk canceling at the last minute due to an incoming storm. The groups have been very understanding, a few even giving donations or organizing fundraising events for us. They all hope to return to Yokoji once we have reestablished next year, so we hope we won't lose any of our valued friends and guests.
After speaking to pretty much every link in the chain of our insurance claim from adjuster to accountant to the insurers themselves, we have now ascertained that we will not be covered for any damage or business income interruption from the mud or debris flow. The "period of restoration" as they call it, will probably take in about a 2 month period starting on the day of the fire and evacuation and cover the costs of business lost during that time, payroll and the cost to fix damage caused by the fire. The mudslide and any business lost over the year due to the risk of mudslide will not be covered. Mudslide and earthquake are not part of standard insurance packages and must be purchased separately. There may be an option for us to purchase insurance for any damage that occurs in the future due to mud and debris flow through a separate policy. I will look in to this, but it will no doubt be very expensive.
So this is where we stand as of today. Over the next weeks we'll hopefully get more information and as we do, we'll be sure to share it with you. Thank you for your ongoing support.