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Excavating reviews in Glen Cove

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    While the County was surveying area septic systems and asked if we would volunteer to have ours tested, we were shocked to find by a dye test that the system was leaching some effluent above-ground at the edge of some woods.  We were advised that the system was not repairable, and would need to be replaced completely and quickly.  We knew we were vulnerable to price-gouging in this situation, so we asked a couple of reputable area companies to give us proposals, and also asked people we knew in the plumbing, real-estate, and construction businesses who they would recommend to do a first-rate job.  The names "Bob Hotine" and "DC Crane" kept coming up.  We didn't realize at first that they were the same thing.  One person told us that Bob clearly had the respect of many of the building inspectors and plumbing inspectors in various jurisdictions.  Another said that Bob would give us a first-class system but would never sell us on something that we didn't need.  Our trusted plumber said that he had seen a job DC Crane had done in Plandome, where people have perfect thick lawns, and that DC Crane had removed the necessary sections of lawn, installed the system, and that the next day you never would have known they were there.
    Obviously, we needed to speak to these folks.  
    It appears that almost all of their business comes from recommendations and word-of-mouth.  I don't even think that DC Crane has a boldface listing in the phone book, and I sure have never seen an ad for them.  They weren't even on Angie's List.  But in a way, that's all good.  If you can run a thriving business solely on the publicity you get from recommendations arising from your past work, that says a lot about your work.
    DC Crane is a family business.  It is Bob and his sons Dave and Chris.  I asked Bob one day how he had chosen the name.  In my head I had thought of Washington, DC.  Bob looked at me like it was obvious, and then just said 'Dave and Chris".  Duh.  He had named the business after his sons, who now worked with him.
    Bob came and explained that first he would recommend an engineer who we would hire under separate contract, or we could choose our own, and that together they would dig test holes which would determine the groundwater level and soil composition on our property and thus the best location to place the septic tank and the separate leaching pools (the concrete things that look like cesspools).  We decided to take the first step with him.
    Bob had recommended an engineer that he thought was good when there was a lot of groundwater in the area, which was the case with us.  We hired that engineer, and gave Bob a contract to dig the test holes.  This kind of gets you under the sheets with the contractor, because it would be hard to reject him for the project given that we were now using his recommended engineer.  It still would have been possible if he had horrified us in some way or his quote was wildly out of line, but it does start you down the aisle together so it's a good idea to have in mind that this is the guy you probably want to do the system before taking the step with him.
    On the appointed day, they came to dig the holes.  They spent a lot of time and dug a lot of holes.  Many locations had too much groundwater.  Bob explained that if we couldn't find an appropriate place for the pools, a different design would be necessary, which would be more expensive.  He wanted to keep the septic tank near where the old septic tank was, because that would minimize the additional new piping needed.  When he couldn't find a spot with acceptable groundwater level, he proposed to use a different type of septic tank, one that was fully-sealed and thus permitted for use in higher groundwater.  The pools were another issue: they have to be porous, so we had to find a place they could go. It was starting to look hopeless, when Bob noticed a natural rock formation that we had used as a rock garden near the back of the property.  He pronounced that the soil would be sandier on the other side and that the groundwater would likely be lower.  The engineer wasn't so sure, but with all his experience, Bob was able to see the topography and make the call.  They dug a few more test holes, and he turned out to be absolutely right.  Our trusted tree guy later explained that he himself could have told us the same thing from looking at the trees; he said he had worked with Bob on jobs and that indeed Bob can tell from natural features how the soil and water will go, just as he can tell from the trees.  Because he kept trying, and because he really looked at features of the property, Bob was able to save us from having to go with an even-more-expensive solution.
    Once Bob and the engineer agreed on the system design, and the engineer got the plans approved by our local jurisdiction, Bob ordered the materials and gave us a date on which the work would start.  The night before, he pre-staged the giant septic tank, the giant leaching ponds, a bunch of pipe and some heavy equipment on our lawn.  It looked eerie at night.  The next day, work began.  Bob and his sons don't mess around.  They take few breaks (Mom brings them all lunch some days), and those they do take are short.  They get there, they start working, and they don't stop until it's time to go home.  Bob had coordinated a licensed septic company to decommission and pump our old tanks and fields.  They did their thing, and then the amazing work started.  There is all sorts of digging, measuring, lifting of giant concrete structures, aligning, connecting pipes, etc.  One son is a whiz on one piece of equipment, the other on another, and Bob directs the work and gets out there in the trenches with a shovel and other equipment.  They all work really hard, and seem to enjoy working together.  Bob is an articulate, ruggedly-handsome guy who you would swear you had seen in some role on TV.  He is a pleasure to interact with, makes a great presentation, and is obviously a person with strong work values.  Same for his sons.
    Before they covered over their work, Bob called for an inspection from the regulating authority.  The guy came over, and was a supreme hardass.  By snooping around a bit, he discovered that what we had always believed to be some kind of stormwater cistern was actually a cesspool for the garage apartment.  Oops.  He demanded that it be pumped, filled in, and that pipes be run to the system that Bob had installed.  We resisted, but it was no use.  Having gone to install a new system, the whole thing had to be to code, and our jurisdiction requires one complete system for everything.  Bob quoted us a fair number to do the extra work, and at the end of the day we relented.
    The hardass inspector seemed to have a good deal of respect for Bob and his work, and although he gave it a very thorough review, he ultimately said that it all looked good with no changes needed and permitted it to be covered up.  Bob made some comment to me about never needing to worry about the inspector when you do good work, and I would have to agree.
    After covering over the work, Bob restored the property and sprinkler system.  We needed to reseed one area of the property, but Bob put an enormous amount of work into perfecting the grade of the area, raking the dirt over and over until he thought it was a pleasing slope and making it ready to be seeded and watered.  He took as much pride in the restoration of the property as he did in installing a first-class system.
    I should say that Bob's back office, which I think is largely Mrs. Hotine, is very professional.  We had asked before signing the contract that DC Crane provide certificates of liability insurance naming us as an additional insured, evidence of worker's comp insurance, and all appropriate licenses.  You have to do this to protect yourself, but it's amazing how many contractors try to half-a** this part.  Not DC Crane.  His office sent us everything we had asked for, properly prepared and authenticated, all correct the first time.  No messing around.
    We didn't like having to write a big check for the system to be installed.  However, we felt that Bob had done everything he said he would do in a thoroughly-professional manner, and that the job had gone smoothly.
    That was two years ago.  This year, the local jurisdiction offered a free engineering evaluation to every homeowner in our area with a septic system, in anticipation of requiring homeowners to provide their own every few years to the jurisdiction.  Most folks in the area hook to the sanitary sewer, but we are in the part of town that the sewer was not extended into, and the jurisdiction is required to make sure that these private systems are not polluting the area groundwater.  We took the free engineering evaluation.  The engineer who came spent a good deal of time on the property, pacing off where the system was, examining it for any signs of leaks, opening up the tank and looking inside and taking measurements.  As he was closing up the manhole coer on the septic tank, the engineer told me, "You said that you had asked for a first-class system.  Whoever did this gave you a truly-first-class system."  I asked him if maybe they had gold-plated anything that didn't need it.  No, he said, you have exactly what you need.  It is a job well-done.  He reported our grade as an A+.
    - William C.
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