Sunday, January 27, 2008

Western North Carolina's Hidden Hazards

Landslide Map for Macon County, North Carolina

On September 16, 2004 Macon County, North Carolina was in a state of emergency as were 14 other counties in the western region of the state. "The Hurricane Recovery Act of 2005" found that:

People lost their loved ones, their homes, sources of livelihood, and, in some instances, their communities. During Hurricane Ivan, the community of Peeks Creek was devastated by a debris flow triggered by the heavy rains. The debris flow traveled speeds as great as 33 miles per hour for two and a quarter miles from the top of Fishhawk mountain. Five persons were killed and 15 homes destroyed by the flow that was estimated to be several hundred feet wide and up to 40 feet high.... Further, people could not know the landslide risks associated with their housing location because such maps are not readily available. The State needs to...prepare landslide zone mapping for the region so that homes may be rebuilt in safe areas.

On October 3, 2006 Governor Mike Easley issued a press release to the residents of Western North Carolina advising that the first of the state landslide maps had been completed. The "Is it safe to build or buy here" maps for Macon County show historic landslide events, attempt to determine factors of slope instability, and how far a mountainside would move in the event of slope failure. The Governor 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."

As Governor Easley states: landslide mapping provides critical information to all parties involved in the regulation, development, and purchase of hazardous land.

Starting in the fall of 2006, residents and prospective buyers should have been apprised of the now identified high risk real estate designations within Macon County's jurisdiction.

J. W. Williamson, of Wataugawatch, asks a pertinent and worrisome question. "So far, what has Macon County government done with those (landslide) maps? Word is that they've essentially hidden them from the public. The Macon County Commission have evidently expressed fear that if they release the information of potential landslide hazards to the public, they might get sued...because, you know, information just gets people upset (the truth sets the fees, so to speak). Go to the official Macon County website and look for any evidence that its slopes have ever been mapped and evaluated according to the best scientific evidence for life-and home-destroying potential. Go on. I dare you. You won't find a word." Please see "Landslide Hazards in Watauga County." January 23, 2008

If you do visit the Macon County website you will find the following reassuring words from the Planning Department. "Our mission is to serve the people of Macon County by: "Applying land use regulations in a way that promotes the health and public safety of our citizens."

Who is right? The planning board who continues to permit the undisclosed development of hazardous slopes or state geologists who warn that the Macon County hazard maps show mountainous terrain at serious risk of future devastating landslides.

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