Monday, February 11, 2008

Western North Carolina Landslides Are Predictable... But Can be Prevented with Safe Slope Regulation

Governor Easley and the landslide mapping program

In October 2006 Governor Mike Easley reported that the first of the state advisory landslide hazard maps had been completed for Macon County. The "Is it Safe to Build or Buy Here" maps show historic landslide events in the county. This is critical construction information: "Once a slope has failed the underlying shale or clay that is in the failure zone will never go back to its original strength and even in dry years these slopes can continue to show movement (it may slow down to almost zero but it does not take the same force to sustain movement after failure)...
Any home in an active landslide will be destroyed at some point in the future -it could be 5 years or 5000 years- it's nearly impossible to say. Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan for Colorado Springs, Colorado

It is important to note Governor Easley's recommendations. "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."

Does the Governor truly believe that these non-regulatory maps are sensible and safe ways to formulate public policy for the prevention of future landslides in the fifteen counties that were declared federal disaster areas in September 2004?

The state has carelessly chosen to relegate responsibility to parties that do not have the will power or knowledge to prevent the next series of landslide disasters. Legislators have unfairly burdened the real estate industry, local government, and buyers with the responsibility of interpreting and responding to scientific data on a geologic landslide hazard map.

The real estate industry does not have the authority to pass slope regulations or to oversee compliance of these regulations. This concern has been left to the counties, towns, and cities in Western North Carolina. How do local governments respond to the risk information on the hazard maps and the reality that large portions of the developable taxable land in their jurisdiction is at severe probability for slope failures?

This serious question can only be answered by local governments throughout the region. According to reports most planning boards are ignoring the hazard maps and are continuing to permit unrestricted and unsupervised development of highly hazardous land.

Today, almost 4 years after the catastrophic landslide disasters, only two hazard maps have been completed. The maps for Watauga and Macon Counties are available though the North Carolina Geological Survey, but prospective buyers would have to know about them.

Western North Carolina Realtors have chosen not to disclose the existence of the landslide mapping program.

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