Thursday, August 7, 2008

Western North Carolina Landslides Remain a Well-Kept Secret

In September 2004 the western counties of North Carolina were in a state of emergency. The President issued 2 federal disaster declarations and FEMA provided $72 million in aid.

Since next month marks the fourth anniversary of the Western North Carolina landslide disasters it is time to look at what actions the state has taken.

In February 2005 the North Carolina General Assembly recognized that landslides posed a serious but yet to be identified threat. The legislature authorized funds ($1.3 million) for a multi-county "Is it Safe to Build Here" landslide mapping program. To date these studies have produced only two county landslide hazard maps.

When the Macon County landslide maps were completed in October 2006 Governor Mike Easley said:

These maps will show which areas are prone to landslides and that will help developers, county officials, and residents decide where to safely build homes, roads, and other structures.
The public has made substantial investments in Western North Carolina mountain property and at no time have their interests been protected. There is no real estate disclosure of the landslide mapping program or mention of the fact that all land should be professionally investigated. The Macon and Watauga County hazard maps show that hundreds of homes have been built directly in the path of previous landslides.

Unfair and Deceptive Business Practices

In 2007 the state acted to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices. Governor Easley signed a bill in late August restricting the ability of the mortgage industry to prey on unwary borrowers. The Governor said during the legislative signing:

I should have watched this closer; all of us should have on the state level. We should have looked at our laws closer and made some changes.
The Office of the Attorney General intervened in July 2007 to stop the unfair real estate practices of a Spruce Pine developer. Attorney General Roy Cooper stated in his Village of Penland complaint that:

These developers squandered more than a $100 million in financing leaving consumers stuck with property that isn't worth what they owe on it.

Dangerous Public Policy

Today developers dupe the public into buying risky mountain slope property and planning boards promote hazardous residential development. These two self-interested groups are not qualified to make decisions regarding public health and safety.

It is well past time for legislators and the Attorney General to reconsider state laws and their responsibilities.

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