Thursday, September 9, 2010

Haywood County Mountain Real Estate: Hunters Crossing Subdivision Landslide

Haywood County Landslide Hazard Map

Unpublished 2005 Haywood County Stability Index Hazard Map.
Risk models show that 49% of Haywood County land is unstable.

Haywood County Mountain Real Estate: Hazardous-Land Disclosure

Although not referenced on property listings and in real estate contracts, Haywood County is one of twenty-one Western North Carolina counties classified landslide-hazardous by federal officials.

Haywood County building sites are unstable because of the region's geologic features and water-reactive soils. When heavy rains are forecast, the National Weather Service issues bulletins advising that landslides and slope failures can be expected.

Hunters Crossing Underground Landslide Waynesville, NC

Photographs Hunters Crossing Subdivision Big-Slow-Moving Landslide—November 2005—NCGS

These archived articles tell the story of the Hunters Crossing landslide.

More homes are sliding off the mountainThe Mountaineer
Jeff Schmerker—November 23, 2005
Elaine Kuhl spent Friday morning packing to leave for a short Thanksgiving vacation.

But when Kuhl returns to Waynesville next week, she won’t be moving back to her home.

The upscale duplex where Kuhl has lived for the past six years is sliding downhill.

Residents on Hunters Crossing Ridge in the Allen Creek area first noticed the ground movement about six weeks ago when cracks appeared in one of the basements.

In October, Jim Crawford, who lives next to Kuhl, moved into a unit across the street. But the sliding intensified last week. Massive cracks appeared in the basement, big enough for sunlight to fall through. The two duplex units appeared to pulling apart at the seams. Fissures spread through the backyard and driveway.

"Oh wow, look at how this has opened up just since yesterday," gasped Gerri Madden as she peered at a quickly-widening crack. “That’s unbelievable.”

Madden and her husband Mark, moved into their new home, which sits a few hundred yards above Kuhl’s unit, just six days ago. “Our home is safe," she said, “but I am not sure about our driveway.”

Inspectors from the town of Waynesville on Thursday told two families they would need to leave their homes and cut off water to all three duplex units.

"This could be short-term," said Greg Shuping, director of Haywood County Emergency Management. “What we are doing is getting the experts out here to look at this.” Richard Wooten, a senior geologist with the North Carolina Geologic Survey, said he’s not sure yet what’s causing the mountain to slide. “We are trying to figure out what areas are moving and how much it’s moving.” Wooten said as he stood by the home’s basement. The county’s soil survey shows the area to be highly susceptible to slope creep, said Marc Pruett, Haywood County’s erosion control officer program director.

“That’s a bad one up there,” said Pruett, who observed the fissures a few weeks ago. “That whole house is just being crunched off that mountain.”

Pruett said the future does not look good for Kuhl’s home.

"Instinct tells me," he said, "that it will continue to be subject to soil creep."

The hillside above the home is laced with tension cracks, Pruett said, which could be allowing water to seep into the ground. Water, which weights 60 pounds per cubic foot, could quickly begin to weigh a slope down.

The slide on Hunters Crossing Ridge is just the latest in a series of slope failures in Haywood County in recent months. In October, Pruett briefed county planners and leaders about the problem—he orchestrated an hour-long slide show featuring image after image of homes, roads, and yards in the process of being torn apart by land slides. Pruett said he felt the situation on Hunters Crossing Ridge was so serious that when he saw children playing in the yard beneath the sliding home, he stopped and warned their parents about the looming threat.

"I felt I would be remiss if we did not stop and tell these people, 'Don’t let these kids play in the backyard,'" he said.

Jeff Coghill, the home’s owner, said he is in contact with oufits that specialize in slope stabilization. On Friday, standing in the cold morning, he pulled out an aerial photograph which showed the duplex he owns and a half-circle of avalanching slope around it. Coghill said the home was built in 1994,though he did not buy it until 2001.

“This was not just some investment we made,” Coghill said. "My wife and I planned to retire here.”

While Crawford’s new unit is not sliding away, the driveway accessing it is. He said he wasn’t sure if it was safe to park there.

Kuhl said with the utilities to her unit turned off for now she’d have to find somewhere else to stay. She’s hoping the disruption doesn’t last very long.

"I’ve been here for six years," she said. "I don’t know what to
Study brings bad newsThe Mountaineer
Vicki Hyatt, Editor—March 20, 2006
An engineering study of a mountainside where home foundations are cracking—a six-unit condominium complex called Hunters Crossing—provided homeowners with no good news.

The slide area, according to a study by Alpha Environmental Sciences Inc., in Waynesville, stretches about 250 feet parallel to Lickstone Road and extends about 300 feet up the hill from the east side of the road. On-site visits showed a number of cracks and vertical cuts in the ground, some of which are near the homes at the top of the failure area, the report stated.

Foundation cracks and wall displacements were found in homes at the top and bottom of the failure zone. New signs of distress continue.

Two 50-foot borings at the top of the failure area never reached rock, though a boring at the slope’s bottom hit rock at 8.5 feet. “Any event that could momentarily reduce the internal soil strength could cause a rotational failure to occur,” the report stated. “The type of events that cause this condition would be the infusion of large amounts of water, either from periods of intense rain or a water line failure. Also, a seismic shock such as the 3.8 magnitude earthquake that occurred on Aug. 25, 2005, two miles southwest of Hot Springs could have caused this change in strength.”

The strength reduction can be permanent or take an extremely long time to return to a balanced point, the report stated.

One treatment would require the removal of homes near Lickstone Road and then constructing a 70-foot berm extending 20 to 30 feet high. If the berm option was chosen, reconstructing home on the slope would not be feasible, the report said.

To attempt to stabilize the slope, anchor tie backs could be drilled into the soil or rock beyond the failure zone. The remedy could cost at least $1 million, the report stated, but it might not work.

The report recommended the homes affected by the slope failure, if they are in a condition to be moved, be relocated.

Greg Shuping, the emergency service director for Haywood County, became involved in the Hunters Crossing issue in late November when the unstable mountain conditions prompted safety concerns for area residents, as well as any emergency services personnel who might be called upon to respond to a disaster.

“My role is to make sure citizens received expedited service and we did,” he said. “We looked at it, called in experts and turned it over to them. That’s the protocol we’re using to give people the information they need.” Shuping said this is the second situation he is aware of where an unstable slope threatened homes. Another occurred when a Maggie Valley area home collapsed, killing one of the homeowners and leaving the other without a spouse or a home.

Citizens need to be aware of changes in and around their home and seek professional advice if they feel they need to, Shuping said.

“If anyone has any questions, they should contact the local planning or erosion control office,” he said. “They should be able to send someone out to give some advice.”

Marc Pruett, the Haywood County erosion control officer, said while it is sad, it is probably the right recommendation to remove the homes in Hunters Crossing.

“I find that sad, but in some ways, expected,” he said. “I feel like, again, there’s a huge amount of development being done in areas where there’s very little subsurface investigation of steep areas possibly with bad soils or bad geology. This is one that has shown itself to us after the fact.”

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