Friday, May 9, 2008

Collateral Damage

Development-triggered slope failures are causing irreparable harm throughout Western North Carolina.

The following passage from Jeff Schmerker's article "Disappearing Haywood" The Mountaineer, October 31, 2005 explains why:
If you ever get the chance to see Marc Pruett’s erosion control disaster slide show by all means, watch it.

Pruett’s diorama is a hundred or so photos that depict in shocking detail the worst of Haywood County residential development. There are photos of roads splintered into tiny bits as the slopes underneath them give way. There are images of streams running dark brown, choked with silt from unmitigated erosion. There are pictures of cut slopes so steep they have been reduced to constantly avalanching gullies.

And then there are the homes. Pruett has pictures of houses being slapped on one side by landslides and falling off deliriously steep slopes on the other, homes whose yards are riddled with gaping crevasses as the land pulls away beneath them, homes whose foundations have cracked, some of the cracks so big daylight shines through them, and pictures of homes literally being torn apart as the unstable ground they sit on gives way. Pruett, the county’s erosion control program director, who showed his slides Tuesday night to a gathering of county officials and environmental workers, said in nearly every case the culprit was the same: shoddy building practices in unsafe terrain.
Homes that are located above or below construction sites frequently suffer the consequences of improper industry behavior.

It is unusual to have videos of muddy water flowing through your neighborhood and around your home but Skip and Katherine Metheny have recorded these events since the summer of 2006. For photos and YouTube video please visit Erosion/Grove Park Cove. The Methenys believe that mountain slope construction activities at the Grove Park Cove development site were responsible for their property damage. (The developer was cited by the city of Asheville and the state Department of Water Quality for erosion violations.) On March 18, 2008 they filed suit against the developer.

Joel Burgess reported the following in his March 22, 2008 article "Developer faces suit over mudflow" Asheville Citizen-Times:
An Asheville couple have sued a developer for violating federal clean water rules, alleging the builder sent a torrent of muddy water onto their property.

Glen and Katherine Metheny, of Spooks Branch Road, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U. S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina LLC and Dan Grammatico Signature Homes LLC.

The Beaverdam-residents say beginning in 2006, the developers' 17-lot Grove Park Cove subdivision caused their property to be flooded with muddy water.

The Methenys are asking that the developers pay to repair damage to their property, restore damaged streams and pay civil penalties of $32,500 per violation per day under the U.S. Clean Water Act.

"There are significant penalties that can be imposed by the judge for violations in federal court that we thought be more appropriate than state court," said the Methenys' attorney, Gary A. Davis, of Hot Springs.

Developer Dan Grammatico said much of the mud flows from disturbances above the subdivision and that his company has in fact improved runoff problems.

"Before we built this project, you should have seen the rutting and erosion coming off this mountain," Grammatico said. "There is less water coming off the mountain than there was before."

The case will be heard by Judge Lacy Thornburg, Davis said, but there is no date set yet for any of the pretrial procedures.

Skip Metheny had reported problems with mud running off the construction site to the Asheville stormwater engineer, who had cited the developers for city erosion control violations.
Careless development on the region's hazardous slopes is leaving a legacy of landslides, mudflows and extreme uninsurable property loss. Damage reports and geologic evidence should prompt urgent legislative action yet there has been no meaningful effort to protect property owners from "shoddy building practices in unsafe terrain."

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