Thursday, April 23, 2009

Macon County Fails to Disclose Landslide Real Estate Maps

Additional Macon County landslide maps can be viewed on the North Carolina Geological Survey's website.

These 2005-2006 North Carolina Geological Survey landslide-hazard maps should serve as proof that much of Macon County real estate is not safe for residential development. These studies reaffirm the conclusions of the 1998 North Carolina Department of Emergency Management hazard-assessment reports.

It isn’t generally known but Western North Carolina landslide mapping was initiated in 2000 and the effort was intensified after the disaster declarations of September 2004.

Macon County was the first of the post-disaster counties to be investigated for geologic hazards because of the 2004 Peeks Creek landslide which killed 5 people and demolished 15 homes.

The public should find it suspect that the Macon County government website has no landslide advisory hot link. County commissioners were informed in 1998 that land under their jurisdiction was landslide-prone and highly-hazardous. If the commissioners had any doubts about the 1998 risk report, the Peeks Creek catastrophe certainly should have prompted a countywide landslide-awareness program. Why has the county failed to publicize these avoidable hazards?

The answer is simple. Silence is profitable.

Since 1998 the Macon County planning board has permitted the development and sale of landslide-prone subdivision sites. By law if these home sites were located in a flood-prone area, prospective buyers would be informed of the risk and the need for flood insurance. Parties buying real estate in a state-designated landslide area are not advised of the risk, nor are they told that landslide insurance is not obtainable.

The North Carolina General Assembly is considering a bill to require hazardous-land disclosure. Whether this measure, the Safe Artificial Slope Construction Act, is passed or not should no bearing on the county meeting their long-overdue legal obligations.

The commissioners have urgent business and it is to inform the public about Macon County landslide real estate.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Western North Carolina Landslide Real Estate

Data compliments North Carolina Geological Survey.

Slide 106 - This is a map showing different hazards associated with the various soil types as mapped by soil scientists (digital soil survey of Macon County) which is one map NCGS will provide to the 19 declared counties of the Hurricane Recovery Act of 2005 as part of the Landslide Hazard Mapping project. A strong correlation between the locations of known slope failures (shown in yellow) and the soils shown in dark red which have been determined to be associated with landslides. Some slides do not appear to correlate with landslide prone soils for two reasons: 1. Small areas of landslide prone soils may not show up at this scale, or have not been mapped. 2. Slopes modified since the soil survey was done may fail due to modifications and not necessarily due to soil type.

In North Carolina there is a conspiracy of silence on the part of legislators, county commissioners and Realtors regarding mountain real estate. What are they hiding ?

Western North Carolina Landslide Disaster Declarations

In the past decade the following states have received major federal disaster declarations due to the combined factors of flooding, mudslides and landslides: California (4), Colorado (1), Kentucky ( 3), Ohio (2), Washington (5), Pennsylvania (1), West Virginia (10), North Carolina (2), Utah (1) and Oregon (4). Occasionally FEMA does not identify the type of disaster. For instance North Carolina received 2 declarations in September 2004, both were for flooding and landslides, yet the disasters were classified storm events.

Western North Carolina Soil Surveys

Surveys for the 23-county area known as Western North Carolina document that mountain soils are fragile, extremely water-reactive and as a result “unsuitable” or “poorly suited” for residential development. Here are some examples of soils-linked-to landslides.

Donin/McAloon Landslide 2009: Tuckasegee-Cullasaja complex (TvE) Soils

This Maggie Valley landslide illustrates the danger of building a home below an insecure, ready-to-fail slope. As is always the case, the property owners did not discover until after the fact that their home was built in a county-identified hazardous location. The Donin property loss was caused by rain on a portion of a neighbor’s upslope unstable lot.

Campbell Mountain Estates Landslide 2005: Meta-sedimentary Soils

The unregulated use of a bulldozer set off what could have been a massive slide near Maggie Valley in the Campbell Mountain Estates subdivision. Billy Brede, the developer, was able to stop the slope failure by using extraordinary measures.

County officials and geologists on the scene of the Late September Way landslide had no difficulty in determining the reason why the mountain fractured. It was an amateur's attempt to modify a crumbly, mica-laden, slope.

Mountain Air Resort- Austin View & Hemlock Bluff Villas Landslides ( 2003-2004): Colluvial soils

Engineering reports submitted in the Mountain Air Development Corporation lawsuit state that colluvial soils were contributing factors in these multi-million dollar landslides.

Western North Carolina Landslides

Western North Carolina landslide fatalities and property loss have been caused by rapid debris flows: water reacting with unstable soils. But there is another type of destructive landslide. It has various names: deep-seated landslide, ancient landslide and big slow mover. North Carolina geologists suspect that an ancient landslide was responsible for the Hunters Crossing home condemnations. It is not known how many of these dormant landslides are present in the mountainous region but it is worth considering the significant harm they have caused in other states.

Ancient Landslides

Aldercrest-Banyon Landslide Kelso, Washington ( 1998-1999)

The Aldercrest-Banyon subdivision was built in the 70s over a huge inert landslide. In October 1998 the community was declared a federal disaster area after this landslide reactivated: 137 homes were condemned. The former neighborhood is now a park.

City of Dreams Landslide Oregon City, Oregon (2007)

Two years ago, the KATU news team investigated creeping land masses under homes in and around Hidden Lakes Estates. These on-the-move landslides have damaged four homes a mile away and are affecting property owners in Hidden Lakes.

Mountain Green Landslide North Salt Lake City, Utah (1998-2009)

Land under the Springhill neighborhood began shifting in 1998. Initial movement from this buried landslide scarred homes and infrastructure and then it slowed. The landslide has accelerated and now threatens the 13 remaining homes.

Regency Ridge/ Colorado Springs Landslides Colorado Springs, Colorado (1995-1999)

Geologists believe that slope modifications, sprinkler systems and heavy precipitation were responsible for more than a dozen underground landslide-reactivations throughout the city. Colorado Springs was declared a federal disaster area in 1999.

Reckless Endangerment

On March 19, 2009 The New York Times reported that although landslides are significant threats in numerous states and result in $3.5 billion in damages and 50 deaths yearly there is no federal data bank to track these catastrophic events. Presently the U. S. Geological Survey’s National Information Center is forced to rely on voluntary state reporting. Lynn Highland, coordinator for the Center, said that “ getting states to track landslides is “like herding cats.” She said during the interview with Scott Streater that state governments are wary of providing too much information because they believe that landslide incident reports could lead to prohibition of hazardous-land development and property devaluation.

If a federal agency finds it difficult to evaluate landslide risks the public will find it even more challenging.

What the public doesn’t know is that most landslides are set in motion by demands for hazardous-land residential permits and the complicit actions of city and county governments.

Western North Carolina mountain real estate was classified landslide-prone and highly-hazardous in 1998. Western North Carolina landslide mapping was authorized in 2000. Fifteen mountain counties were declared federal disaster areas in 2004. Since 1998 only 2 out of 23 designated at-risk counties have been mapped. This real estate risk information has never been publicized: county websites do not disclose hazardous-land conditions and Realtors remain conveniently silent.

Meanwhile members of the North Carolina General Assembly are sitting on the sidelines reading landslide fatality and property loss reports. The questions before the legislators via the reintroduced Safe Artificial Slope Construction Act are simple: should the state regulate hazardous-land development and advise prospective buyers of the substantive risks?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Safe Artificial Slope Construction Act—Hazardous Land Development Should Be Under State Control

On March 3, 2009 the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that realty groups and some legislators are absolutely opposed to any state regulation over Western North Carolina’s hazardous land development. These parties say that risk-assessment, mandated construction standards, and hazardous land disclosure statements are unnecessary.

The Facts Indicate Otherwise

Western North Carolina county governments have knowingly, and without constraint, jeopardized lives and property by failing to enact landslide-prevention regulations. Unbeknownst to buyers all mountain counties were notified by emergency management professionals in 1998 that the land under their jurisdiction was landslide-prone and highly hazardous.

Hazard maps for Watauga (2008) and Macon (2006) counties show that thousands of homes and lots are sitting in the path of potential landslides. Many of these residences were built in the past ten years. These high-risk property owners are now being informed that there is no landslide insurance and that their real estate will be labeled landslide-hazardous.

Other Hazardous Matters…

Landslides are not the only geologic hazard endangering Western North Carolina mountain building sites. Federal and state professionals who have investigated and mapped the region over the past several decades have determined that weak reactive soils undermine building locations throughout the 23 counties that comprise Western North Carolina.

Unstable soils are definable and measurable geologic hazards that threaten lives and property. Extensive soil stability tests have established that most mountain slopes are “unsuitable” or “poorly suitable” for residential development.

Soil assessment surveys for the following Western North Carolina counties: Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Madison, Rutherford and Yancey can be viewed on the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation website.

Surveys for the remaining counties: Alleghany, Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Mitchell, Surry, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, and Wilkes can be found in local Soil and Conservation offices.

Homes in Harm’s Way

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported on March 1, 2009 that there are “homes in harm’s way” all over Western North Carolina. It is too late for these property owners but there is no defensible reason for the counties’ hazardous land practices to continue.

Safe Artificial Slope Construction Act-House Bill 782

On March 26, 2009 Representative Ray Rapp reintroduced legislation that would require safe mountain slope construction practices.