Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pinnacle Falls and the Pinnacle Mountain Landslide

Is it safe to build or buy property in Pinnacle Falls? This is a serious question and one that should be asked by all prospective buyers.

It is critical to know whether the Pinnacle Falls building sites are safe from landslides and soil erosion as homeowners policies will not cover this expense, regardless of the cause. The geologic costs for ascertaining slope stability are affordable, generally less than $2,000.

The Pinnacle Falls website does not disclose that the development is located on landslide prone ground and that the flank side of Pinnacle Mountain collapsed in September 2004.

The Pinnacle Falls project was approved in advance of the Henderson County “Is it safe to build here” hazard mapping program so landslide risks were known but undetermined. In September 2004, Henderson County along with 14 other Western North Carolina counties were devastated by landslides. This region received 2 federal disaster declarations.

For additional information about Western North Carolina landslides and the North Carolina Geological Survey mapping program please visit their website.

The following documents show that both the developer and the Henderson County Planning Board were well aware of the potential risks of this project.

This is an excerpt from the Henderson County Planning Board Minutes November 16, 2004, Karen C. Smith Planning Director:

Pinnacle Falls (File # 04-M18) – Master Plan Review (110 Lots) – Located off Pinnacle Mountain Road – A.J. Ball, Agent for Range Ranger, FLP, Owner. Ms. Smith said that this application is for a Master Plan for Pinnacle Falls. A.J. Ball is the agent for Range Ranger, FLP, the owner, and Luther E. Smith is the land planner for the project. She said that there were two versions of the Master Plan in the packet, one with contours and one without. The subdivision is proposed on a parcel containing approximately 290 acres of land and located on the south side of Pinnacle Mountain Road, between Pinnacle Mountain Road and Cabin Creek Road. The site encompasses much of the upper drainage basin for Cabin Creek and there are several waterfalls on the property. The property has steep slopes and has a significant change in elevation between the northern and southern portions of the property…. She said that private roads are proposed and the principal access to the project will be from Pinnacle Mountain Road and a secondary access may be available from Cabin Creek Road….

Hazard Mitigation: Ms. Smith said that this concerns the hazard issues of developing on steep slopes. She said that the County has no specific standards for addressing these issues, but it may be worthwhile for the developer to take potential natural hazards into account during the development of the project. She asked that the developer might possibly talk about stabilization and erosion control with regard to the construction of the roads and any potential areas that could be susceptible to landslides. ( Please see pages 8-10 of the minutes.)

Harrison Metzger's article “Repairs”, Hendersonville Time-News, April 11, 2006 provides a graphic description of the Pinnacle Mountain landslide:
Folks in Bear Rock Estates won't forget the night the hurricane-saturated mountainside tore loose, sending a torrent of mud, trees and rocks hurdling more than 1,000 feet down.

The landslide happened Sept. 8, 2004, as Hurricane Francis pummeled the mountains with rain. But it has only been the last few months that a sense of normalcy has returned with the completion of repairs here. The 1,200-foot landslide is among about 130 sites across Henderson County repaired with $2.3 million in federal and state money....

The Bear Rock Mountain slide occurred in a private development and tore out parts of two private roads. It was eligible for federal and state money because the yawning chasm left after the slide continued to threaten homes until it was stabilized. The slide happened when topsoil on the steep slopes gave way where Bear Rock Road climbs the flank of Pinnacle Mountain. The road was closed for more than a year, forcing residents in the upper part of the development to drive miles out of their way on Pinnacle Mountain Road to get to town.

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