Monday, November 5, 2007


So you have fallen in love with our beautiful mountains, and you’re ready to buy your Western North Carolina dream home. How do you choose? The answer is: carefully. Living on a mountain entails significant personal and financial risks. The mountainous counties that make up Western North Carolina are in a landslide-hazard zone, and the North Carolina Geological Survey is in the midst of assembling a hazard map that unfortunately will take years to complete.

Insurance industry professionals have compiled data about the probability of slope failures and according to Robert Hartwig, President of the New York-based Insurance Information Institute, “Homes in these areas ( mountain slopes) are accidents waiting to happen.”

In recognition of these extreme risks, most insurance companies will not provide protection for earth movement losses whether natural or man-made. Research indicates that a few Lloyd’s brokers are willing to sell specialty landslide insurance but they will not cover homes on the riskiest slopes and the policies that are available are costly.

Since most property owners will be self insuring for these common place threats, it is critical to know that building sites are safe.

Who is responsible for determining safe slope construction sites in Western North Carolina?

This serious responsibility has been relegated to builders and developers. Land brokers have purchased thousands of acres in every county across the region and their only business is developing and selling this known, but yet to be determined, high risk real estate. These groups have successfully fought all efforts to require investigation and regulation of their construction practices.

It is important to note that safety standards dictate that all slopes in designated landslide hazard areas be professionally examined if there is any possibility of ground instability. Currently this is not a requirement in any of North Carolina’s county slope ordinances. In fact, some counties (even those declared federal landslide disaster areas in 2004) have no regulations over slope development.

In October 2006, Governor Easley issued a press release promoting the completion of the Macon County landslide maps. He said, “These maps will show which areas are prone to landslides and that will help developers, county officials, and residents decide where to safely build homes, roads, and other structures.” Today only one map has been completed, homes continue to be built on suspect land, and prospective buyers have no information about the behind the scenes landslide mapping program.

Western North Carolina landslides are not mountain myths…they are real threats.

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