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.
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.