Sunday, December 2, 2007


North Carolina Legislators Study Landslides

In January 2007 a public safety bill was drafted in the North Carolina General Assembly to address dangerous building practices. The Safe Artificial Slope Construction Act was intended to (1) require local governments to adopt ordinances to regulate site-planning, design, and construction of artificial slopes in mountainous areas to promote safe and stable slopes for development and to reduce the likelihood of slope failures on developed or disturbed land, in order to protect human safety and property; and (2) to provide for disclosure of landslide hazards to purchasers of properties located in areas vulnerable to landslides as indicated on maps prepared by the North Carolina Geological Survey.

The Safe Artificial Slope Construction Act would have provided statewide slope construction standards for any area located on a mountain face or steep hillside that had a slope of 25% (14.03 degree grade) or greater or that was designated "moderate" to "high" landslide risk on a stability map prepared by the North Carolina Geological Survey.

Sponsors of the bill, Representatives Phil Haire, Ray Rapp, and Susan Fisher were advised in June that there would be no action and that their proposal was being sent to a study commission.

When Representative Haire was told that the bill would not be presented he said, "We've got statewide laws dealing with erosion, dealing with how to build a house, and we've got standards that deal with the safety of water. We're talking about safety, we're talking about the environment, we're talking about water quality. Article 5 of the state constitution charges us with conserving and protecting the land and water for the benefit of citizens. If we know we can do this we have to do this. If we permit development to go up those slopes without advising those people that they need to take additional measures, and that person loses their property or their life, we're not doing our job. 20 years ago we didn't have to do this, but now we do."

While North Carolina legislators delay controlling the actions of local governments, construction continues on landslide prone slopes. There are a few Western North Carolina municipalities that have strengthened their slope regulations but even these do not meet acceptable engineering and site planning requirements for hazardous land.

When a slope fails it is often considered a natural event but current technology and landslide maps provide a clear picture of where not to build. While the state studies these predictable regional hazards, local governments in Western North Carolina are allowing homes, roads, and resorts to be built on old landslide deposits, debris flows, and unsuitable soil.

Mountain settings give the impression of stability but they are in reality high risk building locations with no insurance protection.

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