A Costly Error


A few weeks ago at my nephew’s little league baseball game, the umpire made a mistake during the game. He insisted that there were only two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning. On a higher level and despite the use of high-definition monitors, instant replay, and slow motion technology, umpires calling a major league baseball game can still make mistakes. The cost of some of these mistakes can be incalculable, at any level.

Mistakes in any vocation can be costly. Medicine. Law. Scientific research. And, solid waste planning.

It was recently discovered in Santa Barbara County, California, that a mistake was made in calculating the location of a key boundary line of the Tajiguas Landfill. The county has been trying to expand the life of the landfill through the creation of three separate recycling operations. As administrators were working on the financing for the $110 million project, they determined that the state’s Coastal Zone Boundary line was 173 yards off from what the solid waste planners had figured. The discovery of the mistake invalidates the permits and, of course, any efforts being made to secure the financing end.

To get the project started again the county will have to go through the California Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction over development taking place in the state’s coastal zone. The problem is the Coastal Commission has a rule about industrial developments being allowed only if they employ “ocean dependent uses.”

Santa Barbara County officials have asked for permission to redraw the boundary lines, but so far the Coastal Commission has said no, because it doesn’t meeting commission requirements. At best, the future of the project is now uncertain.

173 yards isn’t much when you’re talking about landfill boundaries. But in this case, it’s created a mountain of problems.

We currently live and work in an age of GPS, big data, and unheard of computing power. Relying solely on our hi-tech tools of the trade isn’t a guarantee. Mistakes will be made.

Like my dad always says, and I know it’s cliché, “Measure twice, cut once.”MSW_bug_web

  • William Sawtelle.

    Actually, when you are talking about the location of a property line, 173 yards (519 feet) is a huge error. That is more than the width of 5 or 6 typical residential lots. An area roughly 84′ x 519′ is an acre, so that ‘little’ error probably really screwed up their plan.

  • Wayne Zirolli.

    Unfortunately mistakes will always be made, and the circumstances regarding the location of the Coastal Zone Boundary Line have not been detailed, but this situation also underscores the need for professionals such as land surveyors to be an integral part of the mapping process.


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