WNC Citizens Blog

Landslide Dangers in WNC discussed

N.C. mountain planners learn to look out for landslide dangers

The Associated Press

Landslides like the one that killed residents of a western North Carolina community three years ago are a more common threat to mountain dwellers than they might seem, so the region's planners are trying to learn how to prepare for them.

Trouble spots are pinpointed in new landslide surveys for Macon County, which borders northeast Georgia and was the site of the fatal slide, and will be outlined in surveys under way in Buncombe and Watauga counties. Landslide surveys also are planned for Haywood, Henderson and Jackson counties next year.

The data will help planners decide how to engineer roads and housing developments to protect lives and property, said Rick Wooten of the state Geological Survey's Asheville office.

Wooten briefed about 85 planners from around the state this week at a conference of the North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association. He described how landslides that have scoured the mountain landscape are likely to hit the same areas in the future.

Source: Macon Telegraph

I got to thinking about landslides again due to the recent slide near my grandparents home last week during a torrential rainstorm that had lots of lightning. The Sylva Herald published a very brief story about it yesterday.

More info can be found at (I'm guessing) WNC Save Our Slopes website, which may or may not be a bt overboard.
I also found a page with a lot of photos at a NC Geological Survey website.

And here is the page that has the Macon County Landslide Maps. The three maps are nearly 200MB in size!!!

One thing you hear people say is that the slide in Macon County was caused by building homes on a steep slope, which is not true. The homes that were destroyed and damaged were on ground that was not very steep...only downhill from a steep slope, and near a waterway.

There is a section of Highway 23/441(a four-lane highway) in Jackson County that has been exhibiting the signs of a slow creep over a period of many years, and the NC DOT just slap more asphalt on it every time the cracks start getting a little to wide. I'll see if I can't get some photos to add to this post tomorrow morning by 8am or so.

Hazardous Land for Sale

In September 2004 the western counties of North Carolina were in a state of emergency...the President issued 2 federal disaster declarations and provided $72 million in aid.

Since this month marks the third anniversary of the rain induced landslide disasters, it is time to look at what measures the state has taken to forewarn the public of the dangers of investing in Western North Carolina's high risk real estate.

In February 2005 the North Carolina General Assembly recognized that landslides posed a serious but unidentified threat. They authorized funds ($1.3 million) for a multi-county "Is it Safe to Build Here" landslide
mapping program. To date this study has provided only one series of landslide maps. When the Macon
County landslide maps were completed in October 2006 Governor Mike Easley said, "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."

The public has made substantial investments in Western North Carolina mountain property and at no time have their interests been protected by disclosure of the landslide mapping program, or disclosure of the fact that there is no insurance to protect against landslide property damage. It should be noted that the Macon County color coded landslide maps show hundreds of homes located in red zones, areas deemed
high risk.

Over the past several months the state has acted to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices.

Governor Easley signed a bill in late August restricting the ability of the mortgage industry to prey on unwary borrowers. The Governor said during the legislative signing, "I should have watched this closer; all of us should have on the state level. We should have looked at our laws closer and made some changes."

The Office of the Attorney General intervened this summer to stop the unfair real estate practices of a Spruce Pine developer. Attorney General Roy Cooper stated in his Village of Penland complaint that "These developers squandered more than a $100 million in financing leaving consumers stuck with property that isn't worth what they owe on it."

The 15 county catastrophic slope failures of 2004 should have been a wake up call for public hazard
disclosure. Instead the landslide mapping program provided an expansive window of opportunity and
an excuse for the real estate industry to sell unidentified "What we don't know, we don't have to disclose,"
hazardous land.

Perhaps those responsible for public safety and disclosure of material facts should review the 1998 North Carolina Department of Emergency Management report which found that all 21 western counties were at severe risk for the dangers of landslides.

Lynne Vogel
232 Wonderly Lane
Mars Hill, North Carolina 28754

One very important thing (in my opinion) that city and county governments can do is to allow denser building placements so people are aren't forced into sprawl, as well as lower tax rates.
I have participated in many subdivision projects which are built outside city limits and ETJ lines to avoid the extra taxation, inspections, and fees involved in building within those boundaries.
It is funny at how every single attempt by local governments to stop something actually encourages the very thing they aver to stop.

Take the steep slope ordinances that have been proposed. I know of three projects given an early go-ahead by investors so thety could be underway BEFORE such legislation is passed.

I have noticed several places in my travels inspecting properties where slow creeps have developed above and below houses that have been recently built...and most of them overlook undeveloped flat land that is prime for development except for the high cost of such development vis a vis government policy. These subdivisions have been pushed into the hills by the very government not wanting that very thing.

OF course, I can look at the satellite maps and find dozens of land slides over a geologic time period.

It would be far safer to allow housing on ridgelines, but they have been placed off limits...so the housing has moved to the slopes. More unintended consequences.

THe number one thing the government can do to stop "run away development" is to stop taxing undeveloped land. The last subdivision I worked on was on land sold by an elderly lady who could no longer afford to pay the taxes on a beautiful 300-plus acres of mountain land. Now, there will be nearly 200 houses with the attendant paved roads, water and sewer lines, and power and communication cables laid, and many slope-holding trees cut and burned.
Tons of silt gone downstream, and habitats destroyed because of a tax on undeveloped land that will be denied a very light future development by the family that once owned it.
Forgive my passion on this subject, but I hate to see my native land raped by carpet baggers from Florida, New York, New Jersey in particular, and Big Cities in General.
If you want to stop the over development of land...make it unattractive to move here.

Upcoming Events

2010 Macon County Fair
Sept 15-29, 2010
Macon County Fairgrounds in Franklin, NC



This used to be one of several political commentary blogs I ran until I got tired of updating several blogs, and consolidated them on Thunder Pig, and moved the group blogs to a Ning network.

These photos are a reflection of where I am throughout the day, and a celebration of life west of the Balsam mountain range in western North Carolina.


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