Monday, June 23, 2008

Laurelmor... "Extreme care should be taken to maintain the stability of these slopes at all times..."

The North Carolina Geological Survey has determined that building sites throughout Watauga County are threatened by landslides. Hazard maps reveal that 41% of the land in the county is located in the path of potential landslides and 20% of the mountain slopes are highly unstable.

There are many land developers currently selling "at risk" building sites in Watauga County but the most prominent is Ginn Clubs & Resorts. Laurelmor, the Ginn Company’s first North Carolina enterprise, covers more than 6,000 acres and is located in the southeastern section of the county. On November 11, 2006 the Ginn Company opened Phase 1 of the resort to prospective buyers.

In a recent interview Bobby Masters, executive vice president of the company, stated that 200 Laurelmor lots have been sold and that work on the infrastructure and the estimated $50 million golf course continues as planned. For additional information please read Scott Nicholson’s article “Growing Pains” The Mountain Times, June 19, 2008.

History of Laurelmor

On April 14, 2005 the Ginn Company purchased 5,700 acres of land from David Kaplan of Kaplan Holdings LLC for $57 million. The land was part of Kaplan’s Heavenly Mountain Resort. Prior to the sale Kaplan had received preliminary approval from the Watauga County Planning and Inspection Department for three Heavenly Mountain projects. Approval for these projects transferred to the Ginn Company at the time of sale.

State Memorandum discloses the likely consequences of construction of the proposed Heavenly Mountain Golf Course and Residential Development

On July 31, 2002 Ron Linville, Regional Coordinator, sent a memorandum to Fred Harris, Division Chief of Inland Fisheries concerning the impact of the proposed Heavenly Mountain Golf Course and Residential Development on aquatic resources. The report opens with this assessment:

As per our conversation on the soils at the proposed golf course at Heavenly Mt. The soils within the area are highly erodible with slopes ranging from 25 to over 60 percent. In order to move the stream they would have to cut into the side slopes which could destabilize the entire side slope which could cause slippage and landslides during heavy rain events. Extreme care should be taken to maintain the stability of these slopes at all times, and to keep undercutting of these slopes to a minimum.
Mr. Linville shares the following on page 3 of the memorandum:

Our main concerns focus on the proposal to relocate a significant length of deeply entrenched stream within a valley having a high gradient flood plain and steep valley walls. A consultation with Mr. Perry Wyatt, Regional Soil Scientist with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, revealed that valley walls in the golf course range from 25-65% slope. Furthermore, because the soils in the area are highly erodible, landslide probability during high rainfall events are increased if these soils are disturbed to the extent proposed. Because of the nature of the stream valleys, relocation of the stream channel will result in increased slopes adjacent to the stream channel and the loss of riparian vegetation (primarily mature trees and shrubs) whose root systems bind the soils together. Such conditions will be present for many years. During this time, the soil saturation during heavy rainfall events or heavy snows will increase the probability of landslides occurring. Damage from a landslide would not be restricted to the project site.

The Ginn Company, like all other Watauga County land developers, is conducting business in a regulatory void. Laurelmor buyers should be aware there are no state or county regulations governing hazardous land development. Decisions on where and how to build are left to the discretion of paid consultants.

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