Monday, June 29, 2009

Wild Acres Landslides—Haywood County, NC Landslides

Upper left photo: DOT engineer above the Joneses' landslide at the intersection of Dogwood Road and Wildcat Run in Maggie Valley- December 12, 2003—The Enterprise Mountaineer.

Upper right photo: Joneses' rescue scene-Locust Drive-December 11, 2003 —NCGS

Next photo: Bruce & Lorraine Donins' home on 93 Wildcat Run prior to landslide.

Last photo: what used to be the Donins' home- January 2009—Asheville Citizen-Times

Appearances are Deceiving

If you drove through the Wild Acres subdivision today, you would never suspect that landslides have taken a life and destroyed homes. All evidence of the Joneses and Donins’ tragedies have disappeared. Yet the cause of these extreme losses is still there and is likely to result in further destruction.

If you were looking to buy property in this community, no one is obligated to tell you, not your real estate agent or attorney that this residential development was built on landslide-hazardous ground.

For your information, Haywood County officials were notified in 1998 that all mountain building sites in their jurisdiction were questionable and potentially dangerous.

Real Estate Multi-Hazard Risk Tool

Are landslide sites easily determinable? The answer is yes. Computer applications are now available through the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) that can identify by address all hazardous real property locations.

The Institute states that the Multi-Hazard Risk Tool was designed to provide an easy to use system that will generate maps and reports showing hazard extent and total market vulnerability for disaster-prone areas.

In the future all 23 at-risk Western North Carolina counties will be assessed for expected high-impact disasters. This extensive hazardous-land compilation was not initiated by the state or county governments. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is requiring these maps and reports.

What data is the Institute using to determine landslide probability? Disaster predictions are based on a number of risk factors: landslide hazard maps, soil surveys and prior hazardous-land events.

There is no indication that the Haywood County Multi-Hazard Risk Tool is operative. Interested parties should inquire.

Buncombe County planners have had access to real estate hazard identification data since April 2009 but the county is not publicizing this information nor are they allowing unauthorized entry.

Financial Concerns

The decision to buy landslide-prone real estate should be well-considered. There are three significant financial issues: unavailability of landslide insurance, landslide liability and property devaluation.

Determining Safe Home Sites

Since hazardous-land maps are not readily available, the public is forced to rely on news reports and the expertise of professional engineers.

Following the December 2003 landslide fatality, the media provided a look at other hazardous residential areas in Haywood County. Here is a reprint of one of those articles.

The Enterprise Mountaineer— "Landslides rise with development"—Darren Miller

December 12, 2003

Landslides, debris flows, mudslides, mudflows, and debris avalanches are all synonymous terms used to describe what has become an all too (common) geological occurrence in Haywood County.

After searching throughout the better part of Thursday for a woman trapped in her Maggie Valley home demolished by a landslide, Maggie Valley Fire Chief Tim Carver acknowledged the increased frequency of landslides in the area, pointing out that this was the first time one resulted in the loss of a home and the loss of a life.

As more mountainside property is carved out to build homes, the risk of landslides increases exponentially.

In the span of eight months, three major landslides have caused significant property damage, and now a death in Haywood County.

After several days of rain in May, Sidney and Delores Hitt of the Big Branch section of Crabtree were forced to leave their home when the driveway collapsed, exposing septic tiles. The Hitts, who are retired and live on a fixed income, faced upwards of $50,000 in repairs.

And only three weeks ago, Bob and Jan Roberts awoke to a landslide on their three-tiered, steeply sloped front yard. As dry underground springs filled to capacity and burst after a year of heavy rainfall, the 100-foot-wide and 50-foot-long section loosened, eventually giving way and resulting in the landslide. The Roberts now face paying at least $20,000 to correctly repair the property.

Marc Pruett, an erosion control specialist for Haywood County, said rushing to close a real estate deal often results in critical and potentially dangerous oversights.

Pruett said people building or buying homes on steep terrain should take full advantage of available resources, such as testing soil samples for compactibility and bonding strength, researching publications like “Mountain Home Guide” and seeking advice from the Haywood Soil and Water Conservation District.

As Noel Menger looked down at her neighbor’s devastation with horror Thursday, she recalled some of the scary incidents she has faced in her two years at her Maggie Valley home.

“We put a 60-foot-high wall with three tiers behind the house,” she said, “but on the side of the house there is a steep hill and rocks seem to filter down every day.”

Menger said big boulders avalanched down the slope, barricading the door, after she had lived in the house for only a month.

Steve Williams, a Maggie Valley native, said something needs to be done about the landslide problem and hopes it won’t take another situation like the one his longtime friends, Edward and Patricia Jones experienced Thursday morning.

“When I heard there was a landslide in Maggie Valley, I almost assumed it might be my house," said Williams, a resident of the Horseshoe Cove community where landslides have become increasingly more common.

“You have to have some sort of rules,” he said, adding that higher engineering standards should be enforced as more and more developments are built. “What goes on above you affects the people below when you build on a mountain.”

According to the U. S. Geological Survey, landslides occur in every state and U. S. territory, with the Appalachian Mountains, the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast ranges suffering from severe landslide problems.

While realizing that the physical cause of landslides cannot be removed, the USGS suggests that geological investigations, good engineering practices and effective enforcement of land-use management regulations can reduce landslide hazards.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Buyers Should Beware Haywood County Mountain Real Estate

Photograph of landslide property damage in Haywood County—The Enterprise Mountaineer—May 21, 2003

The Asheville Citizen-Times March 1, 2009, "Homes in harm's way on many WNC slopes," hazardous-land series was prompted by a life-threatening landslide tragedy in Haywood County. The Donin landslide, January 7, 2009, was triggered by rain on highly-unstable soils, the most common cause of slope failures. Were Haywood County officials aware of the potential for disaster? The answer is yes.

Here is a copy of an archived news report describing the devastation caused by the spring rains of May 2003.

The Enterprise Mountaineer
May 21, 2003

“Little protection in case of mud slides” by Charles White
With news reports of a house that had to be evacuated after heavy rains damaged the driveway, people are left to wonder how the houses were allowed to be built on steep slopes in the first place.

This has been a growing concern for many Haywood County residents since the heavy rains in early May.

The prospect of having the ground literally crumble beneath their feet has raised several people’s eyebrows and suggested a number of deeper questions about county land management and homeowner responsibility.

Marc Pruett with the Haywood County Department of Erosion and Sedimentation regrets that as the current county policy is set up, it is often a case of buyer beware when it comes to purchasing mountain property for a building site.

Pruett said that some surrounding communities employ slope ordinances and storm water run-off standards to good effect, but without zoning in Haywood County, these types of safeguards cannot be enforced.

“Unfortunately at this point in time, we are reactive instead of proactive in our approach to this problem,” Pruett said.

Finding out first hand

The driveway collapse at a house on Paradise Circle in the Crabtree community is an example of building on the side of a mountain. After days of heavy rain, Sidney and Delores Hitt had to leave their home until repairs can be made.

The Hitts learned a tough lesson when they found out their insurance company would not pay for damage as a result of the rain and subsequent driveway collapse. Insurance companies maintain a policy of not issuing any protection for homeowners against mud slides.

The bad news did not end there. The Hitts then found themselves facing another problem as neighbors who lived above them on the private road could not safely drive to their homes unless repairs were made to the road where it met the Hitts’ driveway. Now possible litigation may follow as the group of homeowners are considering action against the county, the Hitts’ insurance company or the Hitts.

Another similar landslide controversy took place in the Horseshoe Cove community in Maggie Valley when mud slides blocked and damaged privately maintained roads.

Pam Williams, who lives in the Horseshoe Cove community said she is upset with the placement of the draining system, which uses culverts. She said that as a result of the poor drainage, a small river slices through her backyard every time it rains.

Now, with roads damaged and unsafe for car travel, Williams wants to know who is responsible to pay for the damages. She has consulted an attorney to look over the closing contract on her home to determine who is culpable.

Williams said she thinks the developer, Don Condren, could be responsible.

Condren agreed the road needed repairs, but disagreed with who would have to pay for those repairs.

“It is up to the individual homeowners to make those repairs, “ Condren said.

Condren said that he paid for the development of the community eight years ago, and that he no longer owns any of the property.

Condren said if the Horseshoe Community had a homeowners’ association, it would be easier for the residents to make repairs.

But Williams said she does not think each homeowner should pick up the tab for damages she thinks were caused by poor planning. She organized a meeting with fellow homeowners and will have a lawyer available to answer questions about the Creekside controversy at the Maggie Valley Town Hall May 31.

Condren has dealt with homeowners’ grievances with stormwater drainage in the past. In the early 1990s, Condren settled out of court with a homeowners’ association when another of his developments further down a mountain flooded, and homeowners complained that the drainage system Condren built was inadequate.

Potential growth thwart

One question raised about land stability is to what extent is the county responsible for notifying homeowners of the soundness of a particular building site.

Kris Boyd, the director of planning with the Haywood County Planning Department, said the answer is not so simple and relies heavily on dollars and cents.

Boyd said the county was responsible for issuing a building permit and a septic permit, but they were not in the business of hiring an environmental engineer, issuing slope-density requirements or performing core-drillings.

However, Boyd did say the county could protect a homeowner’s property if ordinances were passed.

“Water is a powerful thing, and it will find a natural path,” Boyd said.

The problem with taking land-planning measures is that they would require zoning and a land-use ordinance to be passed by county commissioners.

“That sort of thing is very expensive and any official land-planning ordinances might prohibit development, Boyd said.

There has been some discussion of a possible land-use study, but no proposal for a comprehensive zoning plan, which would include the inspections of environmental engineers or slope-density measurements, Boyd said.

Boyd said that he felt the county’s role in terms of new housing should be minimal.

“The home buyer has to take some kind of personal responsibility,” Boyd said.

Many homeowners feel like they are being left in the dark when it comes to the security and stability of their lots.

“The ordinary homeowner doesn’t understand what needs to be done ( to ensure the lot is stable),” Williams said.

For Williams, the lack of information has led to growing frustration, and with legal action looming on the horizon, she wants better answers.



Other Haywood County Hazardous-Land Events

In December 2003 a broken water main led to a landslide that killed Trish Jones, a Maggie Valley resident. Hunters Crossing property owners were forced to abandon their homes in November 2005 because of a large slow-moving landslide. The January 2009 Moody landslide was set off by rain.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported that Haywood County inspectors found 28 cases of potential slope failure in 2008. Seven of these posed a risk to lives and property.

Haywood County Hazardous-Land Disclosure Statement

Haywood County’s public policy, then and now, remains “buyer beware.” Purchasers receive no fair warning for the need for professional engineering surveys via a pre-sale Hazardous-Land Disclosure Statement.

Don Condren

Mr. Condren is currently doing business in Jackson County. His newest subdivision, Rolling Hills Estates, is located in Webster. According to September 11, 2008 Planning Board Minutes, Rolling Hills Estates will not be subject to geo-technical engineering requirements under the county’s Mountain & Hillside Development Ordinance since the average slope of Mr. Condren's development is 21%. The Planning Board did not inquire about Mr. Condren’s qualifications as a builder or whether he had been sued by property owners' associations.

Horseshoe Cove Landslide Repairs

The expense to repair the extensively damaged private roads in Horseshoe Cove was borne by community property owners. Mary Euler, from the law firm McGuire, Woods, & Bissette, advised her clients in the fall of 2003 to form a property owners' association and to charge members assessments to cover the over $300,000 costs of road and drainage repairs. Ms. Euler explained to the group that if they took legal action against Don Condren (Doncon, Inc.) he would probably declare bankruptcy, and it would cost $50,000 just to begin litigation and would take years.

McGill Associates Engineering Report for the Horseshoe Cove Community

On November 6, 2003 Ms. Euler was furnished with an engineering evaluation for the Horseshoe Cove subdivision. In addition to the $300,000 cost estimates for road repairs re Creekside, Saddle, Range, Stirrup and Bridle, a Bunnell-Lammons engineer found (10) specific areas of slope failure adjoining the 5 roads. These locations are marked by moderate to severe slope instability, such as tension cracks, slides, curved trees and apparent long-term slope failure. The engineers suspect that colluvial soils are contributing to slope instability. Their construction cost estimates to repair slope failures in these 10 areas:

Creekside Drive-$740,000-$1, 480,000
Saddle Drive- $129,375-$258,750
Range Drive-0
Bridle Drive-$937,500-$1,875,000

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lawyers Fail to Disclose Western North Carolina Hazardous-Land Conditions

Asheville Citizen-Times photos of January 2009 Maggie Valley landslides. The Moody home and what used to be the Donin home.

Western North Carolina Landslide-Hazardous Real Estate

Real estate lawyers are obliged to check for property liens. Sales contacts must include a checklist of possible structural/safety defects such as termites, lead paint, asbestos and radon. Stucco-clad (EIFS) homes come with pre-sale warnings. Those looking to buy are advised to have professional home inspections.

All these consumer protections and warnings are part of the real estate sales process but yet there is not one word of precaution from the legal profession regarding hazardous-land conditions.

Real Estate Lawyers

Lawyers are privy to the fact that Western North Carolina mountain real estate is landslide-hazardous. Those involved in the sale of this marginal land may have missed the 1998 Department of Emergency Management high-risk landslide report but they knew from well-publicized statements in 2005 and 2006 that these reoccurring events posed significant threats to lives and property. Members of the North Carolina General Assembly stated in their February 2005 Hurricane Recovery Act that:
Further...people could not know the landslide risks associated with their housing location because such (hazard) maps are not readily available. The state needs to...prepare landslide mapping for the region so that homes may be built in safe areas.
Governor Easley stressed the importance of real estate hazard-identification maps and landslide disclosure in his October 2006 press release:
These (Macon County) 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.

Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) Real Estate Multi-Hazard Risk Tool

Unbeknownst to the public, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA) is requiring at-risk counties to provide address-specific inventories of expected high-impact disasters such as landslides, wildfires, and flooding. The Renaissance Computing Institute’s multi-hazard risk tool, which was designed for county planners and emergency personnel, allows privileged users to generate risk/loss assessments for all real property.

Buncombe County Hazardous Real Estate

The Buncombe County Multi-Hazard Risk Tool was operative in March 2009. Now a lawyer seeking hazardous-land information about a Reynolds Mountain home or perhaps a lot in The Cliffs at High Carolina is able to determine for his client whether the parcel is located in a disaster-prone area.

Lawyers know and should explain that the decision to buy landslide-susceptible real estate can be financially devastating. Owners of other potentially hazardous real estate, be it flood or wildfire, have access to insurance. Landslide insurance is not obtainable so it is critical for lawyers to recommend on-site professional hazard surveys as a condition in the offer to purchase. Prospective buyers should also be warned about landslide liability.

"Homes in harm's way on many WNC slopes"

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported on March 1, 2009 that thousands of property owners in Buncombe County and throughout Western North Carolina are at elevated landslide risk.

Who is responsible for this reckless endangerment? There is a long list of culpable parties: state legislators, county planning boards, Realtors, chambers of commerce and real estate lawyers.

Question to the North Carolina Bar Association: Is there any defensible reason for real estate lawyers to hide hazardous-land conditions?

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.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Western North Carolina Landslides: An Urgent Concern

Photographs of the Donin home on 93 Wildcat Run Road before and after the January 7, 2009 landslide.

January 2009: A Month of Landslide Disasters

Rain is the usual catalyst for landslides and it rained a lot in western Washington, the city of Portland and Western North Carolina at the start of the new year. Landslides claimed 200 homes in Washington, dozens in Oregon and one in North Carolina.

It isn’t often that the press provides an in-depth look at the deliberately hidden costs of building homes on hazardous ground but in March 2009 two newspapers took on the issue.

The New York Times: Landslide Real Estate is a National Concern

In his extensive multi-state hazard report, "Increased frequency of landslides remains largely ignored despite risks," Scott Streater noted that these often dangerous and always financially ruinous events are not confined to the west coast. Over a 10 month period, December 2003-September 2004, landslides killed six Western North Carolina homeowners.

During the course of his research, Mr. Streater found that most state and county governments do not regulate or disclose hazardous-land conditions. The landslide-active city of Seattle is a rare exception. The city has been hazard-mapped and landslide real estate risks are minimized. Mr. Streater warns that, unlike Seattle, ... "most of the rest of the country lives with the incalculable risk of a catastrophe."

Bill Burns, an engineering geologist with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, told Mr. Streater that he is concerned for homeowners because on-going studies indicate that “there’s literally thousands and thousands more landslides than we originally thought." Mr. Burns added

When someone applies for a building permit, they assume that if they get it, the house is safe. But there’s no information on landslides. There’s no way to know whether there’s a chance the house you’re building is going to slide down a hill, or that something one day is going to slide into it.
The Asheville Citizen-Times: Western North Carolina Landslide Real Estate is a State Concern

Sometimes it takes just one more tragedy to provoke a reaction. The Donin landslide, January 7, 2009, prompted the Asheville Citizen-Times to publicize the fact that much of Western North Carolina real estate is landslide-hazardous. The following is a reprint of the paper's now-archived landslide report.

"Homes in harm’s way on many WNC slopes"

Little regulation on development puts lives at risk

By Jon Ostendorff-March 1, 2009

Maggie Valley — Bruce Donin carefully stepped through a frozen pile of rubble last week in the spot where his retirement home once stood.

If the basement had withstood the landslide that crushed his house, Donin said, he might have found a few remaining possessions that came with the couple’s move from Florida.

“We brought up 30 years of not only valuable possessions but collections and family photographs,” he said. “Every possession we had.”

A January downpour turned the hill above the Donins into a morass of mud that shoved their house 300 feet as it broke apart, bending half-inch steel bolts as if they were sewing pins.

The Donins say they were not told the slope above their home had been found unsafe in a government inspection, and they think what happened to them should serve as a warning as North Carolina considers regulating steep-slope development.

Lawmakers will take up the issue in coming weeks but will do so with limited information regarding the extent that growth is putting people in danger.

The Asheville Citizen-Times, in an investigation into mountainside building, examined hundreds of erosion inspection reports, reviewed a state database of known landslides, examined maps of landslide hazard areas and interviewed environmentalists, builders, real estate brokers, state
legislators and government scientists.

The newspaper found:

Almost 1,000 homes and 300 undeveloped lots are in the path of potential landslides in Watauga County, where state landslide hazard mapping is complete, according to an environmental group’s estimation.

In Buncombe County, where maps are scheduled to be completed this month, geologists found evidence of 861 landslides, with more than half on manmade slopes.

Six people have died, five have been injured, and 40 homes and buildings have been destroyed in 534 landslides and debris flows since 1990.

The costs of landslides in the last 20 years hasn’t been officially tallied. But major road and structure damage listed in state records combined with the newspaper’s estimate of the housing loss puts it at nearly $13.4 million.

Inspectors in Haywood County, where two homes have collapsed since 2003, noted seven instances last year in which lives or property were at imminent risk from slope failures.

Hidden problem

Landslides, unlike hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding, are almost impossible to predict.

What scientists do know is that they have happened here for hundreds of thousands of years and are happening today, more than most people realize and at a time when more people are building on mountain slopes.

A landslide damages property almost every year in Western North Carolina. Big slides happen about once every nine years in the region, the N. C. Geological Survey estimates.

Most don’t grab the headlines.

A landslide in Jackson County on a private road off N.C. 281 destroyed a cabin during the hurricane season of 2004. No one was injured. A slide that same season not too far away on N. C. 107 destroyed a few storage units.

But others are far more devastating.

The 2004 hurricane season was the worst in recent memory. Back to back storms Frances and Ivan saturated the mountains and caused widespread flooding.

On Fishhawk Mountain, above the tiny Peeks Creek community, a two-mile-long debris flow wiped out 15 homes and killed five people.

An even more devastating disaster played out in Watauga County in 1940.

Back-to-back tropical storms triggered landslides and left 14 dead— more than half of them children. One slide rolled over U. S. 441 closing the road and making travel in the region tough.

Even earlier in 1916, two storms drenched the region, flooding the French Broad River watershed with 22 inches in 24 hours and setting a state record that stands today.

A community called Basin Creek in the northern mountains was wiped out by a landslide. The flood shut down railroad service to Asheville, almost bringing the economy to a halt.

At least two people died in Transylvania County.

“The reports were that you could stand in Brevard and see landslides on the hillsides all around,” said Rick Wooten, who leads the landslide hazard mapping effort for the N. C. Geological Survey.

Hard facts

At its most basic level, the geology isn’t hard to understand.

The WNC region has steep mountains. When heavy rain falls on those slopes for an extended period, the water saturates the soil, and it slides off the bedrock. Gravity sends the mud downhill, sometimes for miles, but often for just a few hundred feet.

Scientists have a pretty good handle on how much water it takes to produce landslides in WNC: The threshold commonly accepted among experts is 5 inches in 24 hours. Most of the disastrous slides in recent history have followed rains of that magnitude.

While scientists can’t accurately predict when and where a slide might occur, they do know that today more people are living in places where landslides have happened.

“The issue of landslides in particular is a safety issue,” said DJ Gerken, of the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has applied state hazard mapping data to tax parcel information.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is advocating for a state law based on the hazard mapping data that would require minimum building and grading standards on steep slopes.

Gerken said the effort should focus on regulations and public education.

“It’s one, where you know there is a risk, putting that information into the hands of people who are building, who are buying or who are living here,” he said. “And two, making sure that they get the kind of engineering help and expertise to build appropriately. Engineers will tell you they can build in these circumstances, but recent experience in the mountains tells us that doing it the right way makes a big difference, and doing it the wrong way can cost people’s lives.”

The center, in an effort to raise awareness and provide a guide for county planners, found 990 homes in the paths of potential landslides in Watauga County.

Officials there have made no changes to land development laws in response to the state’s mapping or the center’s investigation, said County Manager Rocky Nelson.

The county has put the state hazard maps on its Web site but has no plans to deliver warnings to homeowners.

Macon County, another county where mapping is complete has made no changes to land development laws — although the county is studying a comprehensive growth plan and the maps are available at the county land office.

Like Watauga, the county also has no process for delivering warnings to homeowners.

But some counties have taken steps to regulate steep-slope construction with an eye toward safety.

In Haywood County, a two-year-old law might become a model for the state.

Local control

The Donins’ house in Maggie Valley wouldn’t be allowed today without an engineering plan for grading the lot. But it was built a year before the new slope law.

Today standards are much higher: Twenty-eight times last year, inspectors with the county’s Erosion and Sedimentation Control office noted possible slope failures or slopes that were too steep. Most were minor problems — small hills or grades that were problematic for storm-water runoff into streams and creeks.

But in seven of those 28 cases, inspectors said life or property were potentially in danger.

Two have since been repaired and are no longer under a notice of violation, according to county records. Two are still in violation but are being repaired.

One was a project involving pre-slope law construction, where the county had no violation authority, and one was a broken retaining wall that didn’t rise to the level of a violation.

And one, Jeremy Inman’s house in the Little East Fork community, is tied up in a lawsuit.

Inman won’t let his two daughters walk out the backdoor for fear they’ll be hit by a falling boulder.

He hired a grading contractor to carve a house pad for a mobile home out of some family land with a view of Cold Mountain.

He had to move there after his old home was damaged by flooding in 2004.

Inman was working out of state for most of the time the contractor was working on his property. When he came back, he found a rock cliff a few feet from his back door.

He made the contractor cut a large bench at the top of the cliff to keep some of the debris left over from blasting from falling on his house.

Even with that measure, rocks the size of bowling balls still tumble off the hill.

The job was finished just as Haywood’s new law was going into effect. Although he got a county certificate of occupancy to live there, erosion inspectors in a report said the slope is dangerous and needs more engineering.

Inman, a grader by trade, has access to equipment and would like to clean the site up. But he can’t because he sued his contractor, and his lawyer said to leave the site as it is.

But the problem behind his house, as bad as it is, doesn’t bother him as much as the rocks and debris the contractor piled along his driveway.

He estimates the side of the bank has dropped about two feet in the last year. Some of the boulders are aimed right at his father’s house across the road below.

“I mean that is a straight shot right into his living room,” he said. “It scares him to death.”

Inman’s house site, like the Donins’ wouldn’t be allowed today.

Haywood like most other WNC counties saw an uptick in mountainside development during the last 10 years.

The hot economy put second and even third homes within reach of more people and those people wanted mountain views. The more affordable land was higher up the mountain, not down in the valleys or towns.

Haywood caught on to this trend, and in 1988 adopted its own version of the N. C. Sedimentation Pollution Control Act. The move gave the county more control over land disturbing activity.

When county leaders in 2006 decided to take the law a step further and regulate steep-slope development, they tapped erosion office Director Marc Pruett to write the ordinance. A year later, Haywood became one of the first counties in the region to regulate mountainside cut-and-fill construction.

The decision to move forward with a local law came after a house collapsed in a Maggie Valley landslide, killing a woman inside. A leaking water pipe inside the hill above the home was suspected in causing the slide.

The law sets out minimum standards for soil compaction on subdivision roads and requires permits for slope cuts that exceed a 1-by-1 foot ratio, fill slopes that exceed a 1 ½-by -1 foot ratio or slopes greater than 40 feet.

To get a permit, the developer has to submit a slope construction plan created by an engineer.

Pruett’s office issues the permits and County Engineer Mark Shumpert inspects projects to make sure the construction meets the requirements in the law.

To date, no permitted artificial slopes have failed, Shumpert said.

Pruett said the move has been good for Haywood County — a view echoed by home builders. “We feel like we may have made a difference in the quality of construction on some of the steep areas, “ he said. “We want properties that are developed today to be safe and stable from now on. I want the Realtors to make money 30 years from now, 50 years from now, on properties that are well-built today.”

Inman agrees. And he said he supports regulations on slope development.

“It needs to be taken care of or people will wind up with just what I’ve got here— a mess,” he said.