Western North Carolina Landslides
Sunday, December 23, 2007
BUYING MOUNTAIN PROPERTY IN WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA
The people who will be buying mountain slope property in Western North Carolina are unwitting participants in the next series of inevitable landslide disasters. Prospective buyers of said property should be concerned that home sites and access roads in this high risk region were developed, and are being developed, without the proven safeguards of landslide mapping and site specific stability testing.
To protect their investments, buyers should ask sellers for an engineering report that states the home site is safe. Sellers are not qualified to make these assessments. Slope stability can only be determined by state licensed engineers and geologists. The costs for site specific geologic stability analyses are affordable, generally less than $1000.
If the seller is unable to provide site specific safety documentation for the property, then the seller should be responsible for the costs of obtaining these reports. If engineering studies determine slope instability then the seller should be responsible for the expense of correcting the engineering flaws. Geotechnical engineering can be successful in providing security and stability to the site but often there are no remedies to halt eroding mountain slopes. For this reason prospective buyers should insist upon a site specific safety investigation. According to Allen Kropp of Allen Kropp and Associates, a geotechnical firm in Oakland, California "You can protect yourself once a slide starts to move, but it's almost too cost prohibitive to stop the slide."
There is pending landslide litigation against Mountain Air Resort Development Corporation. Mountain Air is located in Yancey County and is one of the oldest and most recognized resort communities in Western North Carolina. Within the resort, a grouping of condominium buildings have suffered serious structural damage from landslides. The property owners are suing the developer, his contractors, and consultants for negligence and breach of contract for failure to provide proper slope stability analysis and geotechnical engineering for the building sites. Listed in the Complaint: the condo buildings have been severely damaged, including separating of decks from the buildings, cracking in foundation and supports, movement of stairs and walls. Two of the condominium buildings have been uninhabitable since January 2005.
(o6 CvS 51, o6 CvS 54, 07 CvS 19)
Mountain homeowners in Western North Carolina as well as those in California are being confronted with another destructive phenomenon... a creeping earth movement that cannot be prevented or stopped. Geologists call this type of landslide a big slow mover. The loss of homes in the Hunters Crossing Ridge development in Waynesville are examples of the catastrophic effects of this type of landslide in North Carolina. The first indications of structural damage in the properties were cracks in basement walls. Within weeks of this observation, the mountain's continued movement had caused large cracks and crevices to appear in the yards and parking areas around the homes. The homeowners' association employed Alpha Environmental Sciences Inc. to determine if the properties could be stabilized. Extensive studies and tests determined that there were no engineering measures available to stabilize the ground under the properties. The Hunters Crossing families have been advised that their insurance policies do not cover damage caused by earth movement and that they are responsible for the costs of having the condemned properties removed. It should be noted that if this mountain site had been tested for stability, these homes would have never been built on this location.
Homeowners in California have also suffered financial loss from this same type of slow moving landslide. In the spring of 2005 three new multimillion dollar hillside homes in the Anaheim Hills neighborhood of Orange County had to be demolished after geologists and city inspectors concluded that the homes had been built on an old, unstable,and uncontrollable landslide deposit.
The mountains of Western North Carolina are like mountains everywhere, inherently unstable and often dangerous. State and county regulators have allowed this hazardous land to be developed with reckless abandon. The consequences of their actions will be severe.