Saturday, November 26, 2011

Transylvania County, NC Mountain Real Estate Landslide Report

It has been observed that mountain-view real estate can inspire blindness. 

Jackson County, NC landslide photo — SouthWings flyover 2010

Findings of fact: Western North Carolina mountain real estate is exposed to debris flows, underground landslides and slope failures.

Unstable land conditions such as those found throughout the Western North Carolina mountain region, including Transylvania County, can lead to irresolvable financial burdens.  Homes have no earth movement insurance protection and HOA members must pay assessments to repair their landslide-damaged roads.

By statute private subdivision roads, including those built on mountain slopes, do not have to meet minimum state Department of Transportation engineering criteria. This laissez-faire development environment increases the probability of costly road repairs. County Register of Deeds subdivision Plat documents indicate whether planned community roads were built to state specification.

USGS map showing high landslide risk for Western North Carolina
mountain counties

Map of Western North Carolina Landslide-Hazardous Counties

Western North Carolina counties on the Federal Emergency Management Agency Landslide Watch List: Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey.  Landslide hazard maps have been published for Macon, Watuaga, Buncombe and Henderson Counties

Federal legislation under Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act requires states and counties to comply with hazard mitigation protocol or risk losing access to disaster emergency funds.

Western North Carolina landslide hazards became a
federal issue after September 2004 rain events precipitated slope failures throughout the region. The cost: five lives, widespread property damage and $72 million in federal aid. The benefit: initiation of the Western North Carolina Landslide Hazard Mapping Program in 2005.

Western North Carolina Landslide Hazard Mapping Program
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.  Governor Mike Easley Press Release October 2006
In June 2011 the General Assembly passed the Appropriations Act. This measure terminated funding for the Western North Carolina Landslide Mapping Program.

Two years prior to this action, May 2009, the North Carolina Association of Realtors advised members and other interested parties, that its lobbying efforts to halt the Safe Artificial Slope Construction Act had been successful. The bill was intented to provide hazardous-land disclosure and control over Western North Carolina development practices.

The North Carolina Geological Survey has released
visual-aid hazard maps for Macon, '06, Watauga '08, Buncombe '09 and Henderson '11. Maps for the other landslide-risk counties will not be forthcoming.

Unstable-land condition data is not confined to landslide maps, it can be found in Western North Carolina mountain soil surveys and respective county hazard mitigation plans.

Stafford Act Mandate: Acknowledge, Mitigate and Disclose Natural Hazards

These findings, extracted from the Transylvania County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan, confirm the region's elevated landslide risk:
The entire jurisdiction of Transylvania County is equally susceptible to landslides.

The mission of the Transylvania County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan is to either substantially reduce or permanently reduce the planning area’s vulnerability to natural hazards. The plan intends to promote sound public policy designed to protect citizens, critical facilities, infrastructure, private property, and the natural environment.

Accomplishment of this task is by increasing public awareness, documenting resources for risk reduction and loss-prevention, and identifying activities to guide the planning area towards the development of a safer, more sustainable community.

Make the public aware of hazards that present risks to people and property and measures they can take to reduce their risk and possible losses.

United States Geological Survey (USGS): phone conversations and GIS assistance provided by the USGS were key in developing the hazard vulnerability assessment for landslides and earthquakes. In addition, they provided significant data in the development of the Countywide Topographical Map, Earthquake Probability Map, and Landslide Susceptibility Map.

Recent erosion concerns in Transylvania County have stemmed from clearing on steep slopes. Specifically, clearing land for building home sites and roads to home sites have become a concern due to most of the good, more level sites having been built on already causing a push to build on more marginal sites. When steep slopes are cleared of their natural groundcover, the soil which has been held in place by dense vegetation becomes unstable. The shallow root system of grasses alone is not adequate to restabilize steep slopes. The result is heavy erosion from storm water which can lead to large amounts of sedimentation being carried down the slope causing flooding, property damage, road blockage, and in extreme cases the occurrence of mud slides.

The County land use map shows that most landslide susceptibility is in areas that are defined as having residential use and are identified as having a high incidence and susceptibility. To date there has been 1 residential structure destroyed, and no commercial, or industrial structures damaged or destroyed by landslides in the County as most of the designated areas are undeveloped at this time.

First, a slide covered portions of Sky Drive causing the road to giveaway causing $400K in damage. The second major event was on Cardinal Drive West where a slide caused $300K in damages to the infrastructure.

The USDA Soil Survey of April 1980 displays the general soil associations located within Transylvania County.

ASHE-EDNEYVILLE association: Moderately to very steep soils. They are well drained and comprise approximately 37 percent of the County’s land mass. They can be found on narrow ridge tops and rough steep slopes.

CHESTER-EDNEYVILLE-HAYESVILLE association: Rolling to sloping soils. They are well-drained soils and comprise approximately 20 percent of the County’s land mass. They can be found on broad ridge tops and steep slopes.

CHANDLER-FANNIN-WATAUGA association: Rolling to very steep soils. They are excessively drained soils and comprise approximately 21 percent of the County’s land mass. They can be found on narrow ridge tops and rough steep slopes.

BRANDYWINE-PORTERS-BURTON association: Moderately steep to very steep soils. They are well drained to moderately drained soils and comprise approximately 8 percent of the County’s land mass. They can be found on narrow ridge tops and rough steep slopes, mostly at elevations above 3,500 feet.

TALLADEGA-FLETCHER-FANNIN association: Rolling to very steep soils. They are well drained and comprise approximately 6 percent of the County’s land mass. They can be found on narrow sloping ridge tops and on very steep slopes.

Transylvania County Government not in Compliance with Stafford Rules

As documented Transylvania County mountain slopes are unstable. On the FEMA hazard index scale, landslides are ranked likely.

Even though county commissioners promised to make "the public aware of hazards that present risks to people and property and measures they can take to reduce their risk and possible losses," the county website provides no access to the Transylvania County landslide susceptibilty map or soil survey data. The soils referenced in the mitigation report are classified "poorly suited" or "unsuitable" for residential site development.

Realtors are following the county's example by not apprising clients of the need for caution when purchasing Transylvania County mountain real estate. These sales practices are approved by the North Carolina Real Estate Commission.

Western North Carolina Mountain Real Estate Hazardous-Land Disclosure

Because debris flows and slope failures are expected events, lawyers from the North Carolina Real Estate Commission advised Macon County Realtors in a May 2010 meeting that landslide/soil hazard maps are material facts.

The North Carolina Real Estate Commission is now vacillating on that earlier opinion in spite of the fact that the Residential Disclosure Property Statement raises the question of whether structures are located in federally-designated flood-risk areas.

Because the disclosure issue is complicated, the North Carolina Association of Realtors suggests that....
although it may not be required by law or regulation, disclosing the existence of landslide hazard maps, together with information about how a consumer can access them, may be a good "risk management" strategy for a firm to consider adopting. A buyer who discovers the existence of a landslide hazard map after closing may threaten or possibly even take action against a broker involved in the transaction based on an alleged negligent or fraudulent failure to disclose the existence of the map.

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