Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Landslide Maps Removed from Macon County Government Website

Macon County, North Carolina Landslide Hazard Maps—NCGS

NCGS—Peeks Creek Landslide Photos

Western North Carolina Landslide Hazard Maps

It is now an historic footnote but on September 16, 2004, the Macon County Peeks Creek debris flow killed five people and destroyed fifteen homes. Macon was one of fourteen western mountain counties impacted by rain-activated landslide events during the month. The state requested two federal disaster declarations and received $72 million in emergency funds.

Since these types of events were expected, the Federal Emergency Management Agency obliged the state to accelerate landslide mapping for nineteen at-risk counties. (Note: real estate purchasers have never been privy to the fact that federal officials designated all Western North Carolina mountain counties landslide-hazardous in 1998. The Western North Carolina Landslide Mapping Program was initiated in 2000 for the following counties: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, McDowell, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Surry, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, and Yancey.)

When Macon County landside maps were released by the North Carolina Geological Survey in October 2006, Governor Mike Easley stressed their importance with the following press release:
These 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.
Since February 2005, date of the Hurricane Recovery Act and allocation of funding, only three county landslide/soil hazard maps have been released by the NCGS.

In May 2010, the North Carolina Real Estate Commission ruled that Macon (06), Watauga (08) and Buncombe (09) landslide hazard maps are material facts that must be disclosed in sales contracts and on property listings. The Haywood County stability index map, although not released, shows high probability of slope failures.

Watauga and Buncombe County government sites provide links to respective landslide hazard maps but on the Macon site, the maps have gone missing.

The Smoky Mountain News reported on December 22, 2010 that landslide maps have been removed from the county Website.

When asked about the absent hazardous-land maps Reggie Holland and John Becker, two members of the Macon County steep slope subcommittee, told the newspaper that they believe the maps cause more harm than good. This, they said, because the maps lack meaningful context for laypersons trying to interpret trained scientists’ work.

Contrary to these gentlemen’s opinions, hazardous-land data is easy to understand. Macon County mountain soils have long been identified and documented as unstable and impracticable compositions for residential development.

Landslide identification maps are color-coded to indicate whether or not the terrain is reasonably safe for home sites and roads. Red signifies high risk building sites.

In September 2010, Macon County Planners were advised by the Southern Environmental Law Center that Realtors are not in compliance with the North Carolina Real Estate Commission’s earlier material fact ruling.

Macon County Real Estate: Hazardous-Land Disclosure

Realtors say they do not know how to respond to the Commission’s ruling. This fiduciary responsibility could be met by attaching copies of the Macon landslide hazard maps to sales contracts and suggesting, if asked, that concerned parties seek professional advice.

Unless required, members of the National Association of Realtors avoid disclosure because of irresolvable insurance issues.

When unstable, colluvial/shrink & swell, soils damage and destroy homes, owners suffer irreparable loss. Insurers do not cover this hazard in North Carolina or any other state. Realtors are aware of this risk ( cited in decades-old county soil surveys) but generally do not recommend stability studies as a condition of contract.

Macon County Planning Board

Macon County planners have known since the 1998 federal landslide risk report that land under their jurisdiction was subject to well-documented geologic hazards.

County officials did not cause the Peeks Creek tragedy but they are responsible, as noted, for setting the stage for future disasters.

Macon County Real Estate Current Landslide Events

Wildflower Subdivision Landslide

SouthWings photos of Wildflower landslides

News Reports

“Road failures cast uncertainty on Wildflower’s future”
Smoky Mountain News—December 16, 2009

“Macon fly-over shows what’s at stake”
Smoky Mountain News—February 17, 2010

“Slide sends powerful message to Macon planners”
Smoky Mountain News—March 24, 2010

Craftsman's Village/Boggan Landslide

Photos of Craftsman's Village construction site and view of Boggan
landslide property damage—Macon County News

News Reports

“CONDEMNED: Could this happen to your home?”
Macon County News —April 1, 2010

“Landslides surge in WNC”
Asheville Citizen-Times—September 3, 2010

“Developer admits no fault for loss of property”
Macon County News—November 17, 2010

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