Friday, February 4, 2011

Funding Cut for Western North Carolina Landslide Hazard Mapping Program

Jackson and Henderson County Landslides: Expected Events

Jackson County, NC  Landslide Photo
SouthWings Flyover 2010

Legasus/Waterdance Subdivision Landslide Jackson County, North Carolina—February 2010
Photos: Perry Eury

“These slides are occurring countywide. None as visible as this one, but I’m vetting calls every time it rains.” Robbie Shelton—Jackson County erosion control officer.

Jackson County Airport August 2005  landslide photo. This mountain top facility has experienced
numerous slope failures since its 70s completion date. "Local airport is once again at center of court battle"
The Sylva Herald—August 2007

December 2010 landslide destroyed home
on 1009 Holiday Drive in Hendersonville, NC

Cost to repair Bear Rock Estates Road $394,000

September 2004 Embankment
failure threatened Henderson County, NC home—NCGS

Western North Carolina Real Estate: Landslide/Soil Hazard Risk Maps

In September 2004 nineteen Western North Carolina counties were declared disaster areas after storms set off slope failures throughout the region. As a result, federal authorities required the state to formally allocate funding for hazardous-land identification maps. The series of maps when used with a county’s Geographic Information System can pinpoint unstable real property locations.

The North Carolina Geological Survey has released landslide/soil hazard maps for three at-risk counties: Macon (06), Watauga (08) and Buncombe (09). State geologists advise that priority was given to these counties because of: loss of life/property destruction (Macon), geologic features/property condemnation (Watauga) and population density/property damage (Buncombe).

Buncombe County Landslide Hazard Maps

Watauga County Landslide Hazard Maps

Macon County Landslide Hazard Maps

Western North Carolina Landslide Hazard Mapping Program

This critical public information project is faltering due to lack of financing. Even though landslides continue to cause significant damage throughout the region, the General Assembly has reduced spending for the Western North Carolina hazard mapping program.  If funding is renewed, state geologists say they could complete field research and publish Henderson and Jackson county landslide/soil hazard maps.

Western North Carolina Soil Surveys

Western North Carolina county soil surveys provide fair warning that the region's steep slope soils are "ill-suited" for building sites because they require: “major increase in construction effort, special design, or intensive maintenance.” To the detriment of interested real estate parties, this decades-old risk data is omitted on sales contracts and Subdivision Street Disclosure Statements.

North Carolina Real Estate Commission Ruling Re Published County Landslide Hazard Maps

In May 2010 the North Carolina Real Estate Commission ruled that, like flood maps, documented unstable land condition data is material and must be disclosed on sales contracts. This is a serious financial matter for uninformed purchasers: landslide insurance is not obtainable.

Realtors in the three landslide-mapped counties are not in compliance with the Commission's material fact dictate.

The U.S. Geological Survey Landslide Hazards Program 5-Year Plan 2006-2010

As noted by federal officials, North Carolina is well-known for its hazardous-land conditions.
The Landslide Hazards Program (LHP) and its predecessor have operated since the mid-1970’s as a Congressionally authorized program dedicated to the reduction of damages and avoidance of hazards from different forms of landslides.

Landslides are a national problem. They occur in significant numbers in all 50 States and the territories. The most significant landslide problems occur on the Pacific Coast, and in the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, and Puerto Rico. It is estimated that landslide-related fatalities average from 25 to 50 per year and direct and indirect economic costs to the nation range up to $3 billion per year.

Accordingly, the LHP’s goal is to contribute to the reduction of casualties, property damage, and economic losses from landslides by providing a sound scientific basis for improved hazard assessment and mitigation strategies and by demonstrating the application of new knowledge and techniques to reduce landslide losses.

Landslide Hazard Program anticipates working closely with Oregon, Hawaii, California, North Carolina, and other states on landslide issues particular to each State during the next 5 years.

Landslide Hazards Assessments

Conduct field studies, research, monitoring, and analyses directed at reducing landslide hazards and risk in the United States with special emphasis on developing new procedures and pilot studies for hazard assessments using GIS and remote sensing techniques. Conduct studies to verify hazard assessments against inventories of subsequent landslide events. Improve accuracy of rainfall thresholds for predictive landslide measures during major storm events, especially in the Appalachians.
Western North Carolina Mountain Real Estate: Counties Designated Landslide-Hazardous 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has determined that landslide events are highly probable in the following Western North Carolina counties: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, McDowell, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Surry, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga and Yancey.

This assessment dates from 1998 and includes all steep slope building sites. Steep slope is universally defined as land on or above a 15% grade.

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