NC Landslide Mapping: Worth The Cost? - WSPA.com

NC Landslide Mapping: Worth The Cost?

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There have been more than 300 landslides in western North Carolina so far this year, and the damage has renewed interest in landslide hazard mapping. Lawmakers cut the statewide mapping initiative in 2011 that would have alerted homeowners if their proper There have been more than 300 landslides in western North Carolina so far this year, and the damage has renewed interest in landslide hazard mapping. Lawmakers cut the statewide mapping initiative in 2011 that would have alerted homeowners if their proper
HENDERSON COUNTY, N.C. -

Uninterrupted views, simple living and freedom are only a few reasons why Ed Spencer chose to live in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Although once I started seeing the soil going and the driveway cracking, my confidence was a bit shaken.”

Spencer never imagined his driveway and the road leading to his home would be destroyed by a landslide.

The North Carolina Geological Survey estimates there have been more than 300 damaging landslides in WNC so far this year.

That’s is the most slides geologists have seen since 2004 when tropical storms Francis and Ivan drenched the region prompting some 400 landslides.

On Sept. 16, 2004, the largest slide in state history took destroyed 15 homes and killed 5 people. It began near the top of Fishhawk Mountain in Macon County and traveled 2.25 miles down-slope to the Cullasaja River.

The slide is often referred to as the Peeks Creek disaster.

If I were ever in an instance where I could safely say it looked like a bomb exploded that was one of them,” said former Macon County Emergency Services Director Warren Cabe.

The following year, lawmakers used money from the Hurricane Recovery Act to map slopes prone to landslides.

Macon County was the first of 19 counties to get the mapping, followed by Henderson, Buncombe and Watauga Counties.

As the five-member team of geologists started on Jackson County, lawmakers axed the funding.

"I was disappointed. The whole team put our hearts and souls into this because we really care about the people of western North Carolina and we care about their safety,” said Jennifer Bauer, a former member of the landslide hazard mapping team.

Rick Wooten help lead the team of geologists, and he is all that is left at the N.C. Geological Survey focusing on landslides.

“It is tough to go and do the level work that needs to be done.”

Wooten believes the maps were helpful to developers wanting to find safe place to build homes, giving landowners information about their property, and alerting emergency responders of potential danger zones when it rains.

Officials say the landslide hazard maps cost the state $355,000 a year when funding was cut, while cleaning up landslides often costs millions of dollars.

7 On Your Side asked Sen. Jim Davis, R-Haywood County, if cutting the program was worth the cost?

“When you are broke, you have to make some tough decisions.”

Sen. Davis says the state was dealing with a $2.5 billion budget deficit when lawmakers voted to cut the program.

“The state certainly has more resources available to them, but how extensive of a safety net we need to provide for local government and citizens is up for debate,” says Davis, "and again, it was just a priority choice.”

As it turns out, the maps are important, at least to some.

Earlier this year, Haywood and Jackson Counties began mapping the area's watersheds through grants and private donations.

If the maps had been available to Spencer before his home was built, he says he might have reconsidered.

“Until it happens, you don't realize the magnitude of the destruction,” Spencer said.

To see a copy of the landslide hazard maps for Macon, Henderson, Buncombe and Watauga, click here.

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