Sunday, May 15, 2011

Legislative Actions Threaten Western North Carolina Landslide Hazard Mapping Program

Current Operations and Capital Improvements Appropriations Act of 2011

The Appropriations Act of 2011  was passed by the House on May 4, 2011.

This bill presses for education-spending reductions, outsourcing of state jobs, and tobacco income/loss compensation. Public forest development will be under the supervision of specially-created private limited dividend corporations.

In addition the House majority wants to significantly enhance development activities by removing regulatory impediments.

North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Deregulatory action will be accomplished by underfunding the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources budget by more than $15,000,000. If the bill is passed as written, the agency tasked with protecting public health and well-being will be sentenced to insignificance.

In other words, private interests will be making decisions for the state.

North Carolina Toxic Pollution

Residents statewide are exposed to health-impairing industrial wastes. Studies document that poisonous manufacturing byproducts contaminate North Carolina air, water and soils. Rather than penalize industry polluters, the state burdens taxpayers with cleanup costs.

Western North Carolina Critical Air Quality

During warm-weather months, smog from coal-burning power plants seriously impair lung function. Because of elevation, Western North Carolina residents are at greater risk of exposure. The situation is so critical that on January 30, 2006 Attorney General Roy Cooper filed a lawsuit on behalf of the citizens of North Carolina against the Tennessee Valley Authority. In his press release Mr. Cooper stated that “TVA’s pollution is making North Carolinians sick, damaging our economy and harming our
environment.” Mr. Cooper did not note that North Carolina coal plants are also releasing harmful particulates.

The following photograph shows Western North Carolina smog conditions in the summer of 2008.
On July 21, 2008, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a Code Orange air-quality alert for Western North Carolina counties. This July 21, 2008 Asheville Citizens-Times photo shows smog covering downtown Asheville.

Shale Gas/Oil Extraction: Fracking

Hydrocarbon extraction by way of horizontal drilling is prohibited in North Carolina. Members of the General Assembly want to change that rule. Mitch Gillespie, co-author of House Bill 200, supports fracking and industry reduced-regulation petitions even though these practices are known to contaminate private and public drinking water sources.

Western North Carolina Landslide Hazard Maps

Senate affirmation of the Appropriations Act will likely restrict efforts by the North Carolina Geological Survey to proceed with hazardous-land identification.

Since the passage of the 2005 Hurricane Recovery Act which authorized the nineteen-county Western North Carolina Landslide Hazard Map initiative, state geologists have identified unstable land condition sites in Macon, Watauga, and Buncombe Counties.

Landslide hazard identification maps protect the public from making unwise financial decisions.These material fact maps are not welcomed by the North Carolina Association of Realtors.

Jackson County, NC Real Estate Landslide Concerns

The North Carolina Geological Survey is presently evaluating Jackson County landslide incidents. Without adequate funding these safety reports will not be forthcoming.


Decisions made by petrochemical, pharmaceutical, financial, nuclear and housing industries do not inspire trust or confidence. So the question is why should
the state rely on corporate judgment?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Trillium Cashiers, NC Real Estate Landslide/Unstable Soil Concerns

Jackson County, NC Landslide Map

Jackson County, NC Slope Movements/Slope Movement Deposits Landslide Hazard Map — April 2007
Other than this preliminary study, Jackson County, NC landslide hazard maps have not been released.

Jackson County, NC Landslides

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, NC erosion control officer.

Photo Jackson County, NC Airport

Jackson County, NC Real Estate Steep-Slope Subdivision Advisory Maps

Jackson County. NC Slope Evaluation Map
 Green indicates 30-50% slopes; purple 50-100%

Jackson County, NC  Subdivision Map

Jackson County, NC Real Estate Caveat

Jackson County, NC Planning Board Steep-Slope Subdivision acknowledgement:
As growth and development occur at an increasing rate in the County, the natural and manmade limitations to development become more apparent. Topography—primarily steep slopes—has been one of the more significant limitations to development. Map 1 [See Appendix] categorizes the development potential of land in the county based upon its slope, with land having a slope in excess of 30 percent considered to have severe limitations to development and lands with a slope in excess of 40 percent considered not suitable for development. Given these parameters, almost half the land in the county either has severe limitations on development or is considered not suitable for development.
Source: Jackson County, NC Land Development Plan, page 23.

Jackson County, NC Real Estate: Subdivision Development 2000–2005

Jackson County did not require slope/soil/hydrologic feasibility studies as a condition of permit for the following listed subdivisions.

Subdivision Name/Number of Lots

Mountain Top/325
Bear Lake/675
Balsam Mountain Preserve/354
Lonesome Valley/200
The Divide (Bald Rock)/67
Water Dance/94
Phase 1 River Rock/40
Phase 2 River Rock/200
Phase 3 River Rock/1760
Smoke Rise/100
Bear Pen/95
Black Bear Falls/99
Black Rock/32
Dills Cove/70
Bridge Creek/80
Garnet Ridge/100
Mountain River of Cullowhee/31
Cedar Hill/150
Stone Creek Estates/38
Whiteside Cliffs/30
Bakers Creek Preserve/ 42

Total Lots 5454

Landslide residential/road damage has been reported in Bear Lake Reserve, Water Dance, Hawks Ridge and Mountain Heritage Preserve Subdivisions.

Trillium Cashiers, NC: Soil Instability Disclosure

A number of Trillium Subdivision home sites are located on unstable steep-slope soils. These soil composites are classified unsuitable for residential development.

The question of adverse building site disclosure, re Jackson County, NC Soil Survey findings, has not been resolved by the North Carolina Real Estate Commission. The Commission did determine in 2010 that Western North Carolina landslide maps are material facts.

2005 Western North Carolina Landslide Hazard Mapping Program

Federal authorities notified twenty-seven county governments in 1998 that the region's mountain slopes were geologically unstable and not suitable for development.  Planning boards did not heed these proscriptions and as a consequence homes and private subdivision roads have been built on critical slopes and costly to control soils.

September 2004 landslide events, which included fatalities and wide-spread property loss,  prompted federal intervention.  In February 2005, the North Carolina General Assembly agreed to formally initiate the Western North Carolina Landslide Hazard Mapping Program for nineteen high-risk counties

Counties covered by the Hurricane Recovery Act: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, and Yancey.

The North Carolina Geological Survey has published landslide/soil hazard maps for Macon '06, Watauga '08 and Buncombe '09.  Geologic Information Systems show that significant portions of completed or proposed building sites in these three counties were sited on unstable to moderately stable slopes.

Landslide Insurance

A note of caution: landslide insurance is not purchasable.

Jackson County, North Carolina Real Estate: Landslides "Not Surprising"

Jackson County, NC Realtors Fail to Disclose Mountain Slope Landslide/Soil Hazards

Data from soil surveys and North Carolina geologists find that Jackson County, NC real estate and HOA private roads are subject to slope failures, debris flows and underground landslides. These  identifiable land impediments are not referenced on MLS listings, sales contracts and Subdivision Street Disclosure Statements.

Adverse building site conditions are material facts yet this information has not been forthcoming from Jackson County, NC Realtors. This omission is curious since the planning board stated in 2006 that approximately 50% of Jackson County land is unstable.

This recent North Carolina Geological Survey report details Jackson County, NC landslides:
Landslide Hazard Mapping Update
Jackson County Planning Board
April 14, 2011

A. Overview of work completed from 2/22/201 through 4/8/2011.

NCGS staff briefed Planning Board on 2/8/11. Field work began on 2/22/2011 and initially concentrated on sites identified by Robby Shelton. Field crews are now conducting routine mapping at various locations in the county several days a week.

Mapping Summary

Total Number of landslides documented in field: 40
Accompanied by Robby Shelton: 19
Field Crews Only: 21
Landslides on unmodified slopes 15
Landslides on modified slopes 25
Total field data collection locations: 231

B. Major issues.

No major issues with work progress have been identified to date. Given the extent of steep slopes in the County, the number of slope movements and slope movement deposits identified to date is not surprising.

C. Things anticipated/not anticipated.

An embankment failure/debris flow associated with acid-producing rock at the Mountain Heritage development is not unlike similar occurrences with acid-producing rock in Macon, Haywood and Swain Counties. As hoped, field crews have been able to confirm debris flow sites on the ground that were identified from 1953 aerial photography.

D. Information or assistance needed from Planning Board.

Cooperation and interest from County staff, especially Gerald Green, Robby Shelton and Kevin Jamison has greatly facilitated the project. Field guidance and historical information on landslides provided by Robby Shelton has been a great help in expediting the mapping and data collection. Thanks to Kevin Jamison who provided the new 2010 ortho-imagery on 4/11/2011. Identification of any areas of concern within the County will help prioritize sites for field visits.

Notes on Selected Sites Investigated to Date

Active, Slow-Moving Landslides

Sutton Road weathered-rock slide: Past slide movement affected outbuilding and driveway on upper slope. Continued movement could potentially affect homes at the toe of the slope.

Figure 1. Preliminary map showing the outline of the slow-moving landslide in weathered rock. The shaded area indicates the approximate outline of the slide as of April 2011. Blue dot is a mapping reference location near the upslope extent of the slide. 2010 orthophotograph map base.

Ramp Cove Debris Slide: Slide reactivated in 2007 after excavation in toe of older, dormant slide that had developed in a pre-existing debris deposit. A home site under construction was abandoned after slide movement covered part of the foundation excavation for a new house. Residences below toe of active slide currently not affected by slide activity.

Figure 2. Preliminary map showing a landslide developed in pre-existing debris deposits in Ramp Cove.The shaded area shows the approximate extent of the active slide as of March 2011. Ground rupture lines outside of the shaded area show the approximate locations of inactive scarps indicating the presence of a feature interpreted as an older, now dormant, debris slide also within pre-existing debris deposits. Yellow dots are mapping reference locations near the upslope extents of the slides. 2010 orthophotograph map base.


Green Gables Development: Cut slope failure in debris deposit affecting property, but not immediately threatening residence.


Tuckaway - U.S. 281 Debris Slide: Cracks observed in embankment of recent NCDOT road repair. Active slide mass below the highway appears to extend downslope to shoreline of Bear Lake. Slide movement appears to be affecting a vacation home.

Figure 3. Preliminary map of an active debris slide and other debris deposits along U.S. 281 near Tuckaway Road. Pink shaded area outlines the extent of the active slide as of April 2011. Orange shaded areas are debris deposits from previous slope movement events. Yellow dot is a mapping reference location near the upslope extent of theslide. 2010 orthophotograph map base.

Figure 4. Photograph of a scarp (ground rupture line) with vertical displacement) within the active area of the Tuckaway-U.S. 281 slide. Ground movement has split the tree straddling the scarp. Other leaning and curved trees in the area indicate slide movement.

Stillwell Branch (EBCI) Weathered-rock Slide: Initial mapping done of cut slope failure/weathered-rock slide above a house site. Additional field work needed to assess any potential hazard to residents.
Debris Flows, Debris Slides, Debris Deposits

Tilley Creek Debris Flow: 1973(?) debris flow that damaged cabin. The run out zone of the debris flow is on an older debris fan surface. The debris flow appears to have initiated on an unmodified (“natural”) slope.

Figure 5. Map showing the path or track (pink shaded area) of a 1973(?) debris flow that damaged a cabin near Tilley Creek Road. The cabin was abandoned after the debris flow event. The debris flow deposited material on pre-existing debris deposits from previous debris flow events. 2010 orthophotograph map base.

Kiesse Creek: Two embankment failures/debris flows during Frances-Ivan,  in September 2004 merged into one~4,000-foot long track that impacted Bear Lake Preserve property and contributed sediment to Bear Lake. Remaining embankment in vicinity of debris flow initiation zones remains unstable.

Sheep Cliff-Glenville: Embankment failure/debris flow during Frances-Ivan, in September 2004. Sedimentation in creek, homes not damaged or threatened. Some of remaining embankment material at the head of the debris flow is unstable.

Mountain. Heritage Development: 2009(?) embankment failure/debris flow, and cut slope failure/debris slide. Embankment failure/debris flow developed in embankment derived from sulfidic rock excavated from cut slope. Cut slope failure developed in colluvium.
Dark Road: Home damaged by a cut slope failure/debris slide. Home had to be repositioned onto foundation and is now in foreclosure.
Geologic Hazards

Pump Mountain Cut (U.S. 23/Hospital Road): Altered ulramafic(olivine) rock with asbestos minerals is exposed in cuts and other graded areas.  Our mapping program will likely result in some small adjustments to the outline of the ultramafic rock map unit into areas not previously mapped as ultramafic rock.  Two slope failures were identified: a small rock slide related to talc on planes of weakness in olivine rock (dunite); and a small embankment/sediment pond failure in micaceaous soil.  Impacts from the slope failures are on-site. Some additional mapping is planned for this area to evaluate extent of the ultramafic rock and asbestos minerals.