Monday, March 10, 2008

Mountain Development and Safe Slope Standards

Watch where you build! Western North Carolina's mountainous terrain is hazardous: the region's mountain slopes are subject to frequent and dangerous landslides. The North Carolina Department of Emergency Management issued this prescient forecast in 1998, six years before the catastrophic slope failures of 2004.

For the past ten years developers have been gathering in Western North Carolina. Leaders of that industry came to buy a mountain or two before the federally mandated "Is it safe to build here?" landslide mapping program could be initiated and publicized.

The North Carolina General Assembly has not passed a Geologic Hazard Ordinance. The state does not provide for regulation over the development and sale of hazardous land and equally important, the state does not require landslide risk disclosure. Plainly put, mountain real estate development companies have permission to build any where they please: on unstable soils, in the path of debris flows and on existing landslides.

The following is a short list of some of the residential/resort mountain projects in Western North Carolina. All of these mountain slope communities were approved without the safeguards of mapping and site specific investigation. Mountain real estate development companies have profitable "vested" interests in their properties and even when county landslide maps show unsafe "no build" areas, they are permitted to continue construction of homes and roads in these locations.

The Cliffs at High Carolina : 2500 acres ( The Cliffs Communities)
Laurelmor: 6000 acres (Ginn Resort Property)
Balsam Mountain Preserve : 4400 acres (A Chaffin/Light Community)
Grey Rock at Lake Lure: 4000 acres (Land Resource Companies)
Bear Lake Reserve: 2100 acres (Centex Destination Properties)

It is unknown whether these 5 companies have performed due diligence for their mountain slope communities. Informational material for these resorts provide site maps but do not include landslide hazard maps. Considering the high probability of slope failures, these properties should be investigated for landslide hazards. Landslide mapping costs are reasonable, the Town of Boone was professionally mapped for $20,000.

Landslide maps are simple and easy to understand. They are colored coded to show areas of potential slope failures. Red and orange indicate questionable building sites that need to be investigated before construction begins. It should be noted that industry standards require state licensed geologists and engineers for these studies.

Even though the state has declined to provide regulation for mountain slope residential construction, this does not relieve real estate development companies from following safe slope building standards.

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