Friday, October 23, 2009

Western North Carolina Landslides—Waiting in the Wings

Western North Carolina's steep slope topography and unstable soil composition are similar to that of the state of Washington. Landslides come with the terrain.

Washington State Road 410—Naches Landslide— October 2009

On October 11, 2009 a massive landslide buried a quarter-mile section of Washington State Road 410. Geologists are calling the Naches slope failure a deep rotational landslide: the immediate cause— mining or long-ago rain— is yet to be determined. Photos of the Naches landslide are compliments of The Seattle Times and the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Western North Carolina/I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Rock Slide— July 1997—NCGS

Blue Ridge Parkway Rock Slide— 2006—NCGS

Western North Carolina Real Estate—Landslide Advisory

All Western North Carolina mountain real estate is classified
landslide-hazardous. This designation includes privately-owned roads in subdivisions and planned communities. For an example of the costs related to repair and stabilization of damaged roads please see Horseshoe Cove Landslide Report.

The photographs below offer a small sampling of the harm caused by Western North Carolina landslides.

Airport Landslides -Jackson County, NC
1977-2005 —NCGS

White Laurel Subdivision
Landslide -Watauga County, NC

Jones Ridge Debris Flow
Burke County, NC 2004—NCGS

Jones's Landslide Fatality
Haywood County 2003—NCGS

Peeks Creek Landslide
5 Fatalities/15 homes destroyed
Macon County, NC 2004— NCGS

Moody Landslide
Haywood County, NC 2009
Asheville Citizen-Times

Starnes Cove Landslide
Buncombe County, NC 2004 —NCGS

Federal Emergency Management Agency—Western North Carolina Hazardous-Land Maps

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has long established that homeowners in all mountain counties, whatever the state, have been carelessly exposed to landslide hazards. In North Carolina the risks are exacerbated by the absence of regulation and hazardous-land real estate disclosure.

In an effort to spotlight planning board practices, FEMA is requiring
disaster-prone counties to identify by address all geologically-hazardous public and private property. Highly-detailed real estate hazard maps were completed for Buncombe County in April 2009 but this information has not been released to the public.

The parties involved in Western North Carolina mountain development and sales influence legislative actions, so critical land conditions have not been disclosed. Real estate documents such as sales contracts and Subdivision Street Disclosure Statements are compromised by the concealment of hazardous-land conditions and the financial risks involved.

Prompted by a near-fatal landslide event the Asheville Citizen-Times initiated its "Dangerous Ground" public-awareness campaign on March 1, 2009. By happenstance, this investigative report was followed by The New York Times article, "Increased frequency of landslides remains largely ignored despite risks."

Since there are no federal regulations governing hazardous-land development the public should consider these pertinent facts concerning ownership of landslide-affected real estate: insurance protection is not obtainable and homeowners associations must bear the costs of maintaining highly unstable roads.

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