Saturday, April 12, 2008

Reynolds Mountain...Is this development on stable ground?

Is is safe to build or buy property in Reynolds Mountain? This is a serious question and one that can only be answered by state licensed professionals.

The Reynolds Mountain project was approved in advance of the Asheville/Buncombe County "Is it safe to build here?" hazard mapping program so landslide risks were undetermined. It is important to know whether the Reynolds Mountain building sites are safe: geologic costs for ascertaining slope stability are affordable, generally less than $2,000. Investors should note that they will be self-insuring for all landslide property loss. Homeowners policies will not cover this expense, regardless of the cause.

The preliminary landslide hazard map for Asheville/Buncombe County shows mountain slopes and ridges at certain risk of slope failures. Red Zones (High Geologic Hazard) are identified as cautionary, must be investigated, building sites. A significant number of landslides and landslide deposits are displayed on the map. These areas are considered "no build" locations. The approximate location of Reynolds Mountain is shown on the map.

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

The Buncombe County Hazard Mitigation Plan (August 23, 2004) determined that the steep slopes and fragile soils of Western North Carolina put the county at high risk for landslides. This report was issued just weeks before the catastrophic 15 county slope failures of 2004. (Western North Carolina received 2 federal disaster declarations in September 2004)

Reynolds Mountain and Landslides

Cecil Bothwell 's article "Steep canyon rearrangers" in the March 29, 2006 issue of Mountain Xpress provides the following information about Reynolds Mountain:

During a March 21, 2006 Buncombe County formal session, Buncombe County commissioners discussed safety regulations for expansive slope side developments. During the public hearing Gary Higgins, Director of the Soil and Water Conservation District, told the group "We are not opposed to development in Buncombe County, but what we are concerned about is that as you move up steeper slopes you cannot apply the same rules of construction that you do lower down. They are more likely to erode and cause downstream problems." Building homes and roads on steep slopes results in extreme rates of soil erosion Higgins said, and erosion-control measures are not as effective on these settings. In addition, it's "very difficult to establish ground cover on such areas because excavation goes down into subsoil and such soils are shallow and poor, often with a high mica content." Higgins also said that excavation cuts going down to bedrock create slowly permeable surfaces where runoff is greatly increased.

Higgins displayed a group of slides illustrating these problems in an "unnamed development." Higgins said these photos show that "there is tremendous sloughing and slipping of impacted slopes." The slides also included pictures of early construction sites on Reynolds Mountain. Higgins predicted that "the likely effect of such high-density development is to cause landslides."

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