June 23, 2006
Dave Stormont, President
North Carolina Home Builders Association
P.O. Box 99090
Raleigh, North Carolina 27624-9090
Dear Mr. Stormont:
I have a question for you and the members of your organization. Would a family choose to accept the serious personal and financial risks of buying property in a designated landslide area? I cannot answer that question and neither can you. Presently there is no legal requirement for disclosing that all of the 21 counties in Western North Carolina are classified as high risk for landslides. Please see enclosed document from the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management.
In 1983, the state of North Carolina passed the Mountain Ridge Protection Act. This remarkable bill recognized the dangers of mountain development and the reality that local municipalities were not capable or qualified to mandate standards for mountain ridge construction. Today, the issue is not high rise construction on ridge tops, it is the placement of mountain slope resorts and homes on sheared vertical slopes. The dangers of this type of building are as acute as those addressed in the 1983 legislation.
Earth movement and landslides are frequent in Western North Carolina and their effects are devastating. In September 2004, fifteen counties in Western North Carolina were declared federal disaster areas after Hurricanes Frances and Ivan passed over these mountains. The rain from these storms activated 130 landslides, caused 5 deaths, and destroyed 27 homes. The North Carolina General Assembly has authorized funding for a landslide hazard map for most of Western North Carolina. Unfortunately, the study will require 4 years and will not affect state or local building codes.
Extensive rain from hurricanes is not the only cause of landslides. Landslides can be caused by gravity, a broken water pipe, natural mountain movement, or unsafe building practices. In December 2003, a landslide destroyed a home in Waynesville. The husband was rescued from the debris, but his wife did not survive. Mr. Jones, the survivor, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. Then there are the families in the Hunters Crossing neighborhood in Waynesville who have lost their homes to earth movement. One of the saddest aspects of these tragedies is that the families have discovered that there is no insurance coverage for the loss of their homes. Insurance companies are aware of the probability of earth movement and landslide hazards and they will not insure the risk.
The public expects full disclosure of known risks. Buyers of mountain slope property should be advised on the sale contract of the serious risk of damage to their homes from earth movement and landslides. The buyers should also be warned that they cannot buy insurance to protect their homes from these catastrophes.
We are all willing to accept risk, but we want to know about it.
Thank you for your interest in this matter.
original letter posted on wncsos.com