Monday, June 22, 2009

Planning for Disasters: Buncombe County/City of Asheville Real Estate Landslide Hazards Revealed

This generalized stability index map is one of a series of North Carolina Geological Survey (August 2007) Buncombe County landslide hazard maps. Computer-enhanced maps now identify specific disaster-prone home sites.

Public not Invited

In an unpublicized March 2009 meeting emergency personnel along with planning board members from Buncombe County, city of Asheville and nearby communities were advised that software applications can now easily pinpoint potentially dangerous real estate locations.

The Buncombe County Multi-Hazard Risk Tool, designed by Todd Pierce in collaboration with the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) and the Buncombe County Emergency Operations Center, allows privileged users to select from a menu of expected high-impact county disasters, such as landslides, wildfires and flooding and to generate risk/loss evaluations for specific addresses. The Institute advises that these predictive analytics are not a substitute for on-site professional hazard surveys.

Pierce said that the system is an experimental prototype and the risk reports it generates should be considered drafts, rather than final products, until all county planners have accepted the underlying risk models.

History of Buncombe County Hazardous-Land Development

The Institute's computer-generated real estate risk assessments are not surprising. In 1998 the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management notified officials that mountain land available for residential development in Buncombe County was extremely hazardous.

Since 1998 Buncombe County Commissioners along with their appointed planning board members have ignored risk determinates and have facilitated hazardous-land development. On March 1, 2009 the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that many homes are in the path of landslides in Buncombe County and throughout Western North Carolina.

The media and the public should be asking a long-overdue question. Considering their past actions, are Buncombe County planners competent to make decisions that will affect the health and financial security of property owners?

Interested parties should be advised that this hazardous-land compilation was not initiated by concerns on the part of Buncombe County or the state. These detailed county-wide real estate risk surveys are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Don’t Ask

Public access to the Buncombe County multi-hazard real estate website is prohibited so it is unknown whether this material risk information will ever be shared with property owners or real estate attorneys and their clients.

What is known is that the North Carolina Association of Realtors has successfully stopped all legislative efforts to require disclosure of Western North Carolina's hazardous-land conditions.

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