Sunday, March 01, 2009

'Til the Landslide Brings Us Down

Watauga County gets prominent mention in a lengthy Asheville Citizen-Times report titled "Homes in Harm's Way on Many WNC Slopes." In that currently rarest activity in some of the newspapery world, Citizen-Times reporters actually did some investigation. They "examined hundreds of erosion inspection reports, reviewed a state database of known landslides, examined maps of landslide hazard areas and interviewed environmentalists, builders, real estate brokers, state legislators and government scientists." And found, among other things, that almost 1,000 homes and 300 undeveloped lots are in the path of potential landslides in Watauga County.

Since 1990 six people have died, five have been injured, and 40 homes and buildings have been destroyed in 534 landslides and debris flows across western North Carolina.

The state Geological Survey completed the mapping of hazardous slopes in Watauga, but so far "officials there have made no changes to land development laws in response to the state's mapping" ... no required disclosure to buyers of property that landslide hazards are known to exist and no required engineering to require new building on known hazardous slopes to compensate for the risk.

And nothing's likely to change until Mother Nature once again shows her power. If history is any guide, it'll take another back-to-back hurricane event, like Frances and Ivan of 2004, and some property owners will be given great cause to rue that nothing was done to prevent loss of life and property when something could have and should have been done.

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