Sensible mountain, ridgeline protections best insurance

Published 6:21 pm Tuesday, June 5, 2012

To the Editor:
In his recent Tryon Daily Bulletin column, former Saluda Mayor Rodney Gibson suggests that those who support sensible development in the mountains are fear-mongering, and then he goes right on to fear-monger himself.
“Taking of land?” Hardly.
Too expensive to be able to build? Not at all.
Often, carefully reading an ordinance helps a critic understand it. If he had done so, Mr. Gibson would have seen that the Mountain and Ridgeline Protection Ordinances (MRPO) were carefully drafted to make building for single families and family subdivisions easy and inexpensive. Truly. The ordinances state that such landowners can use the services and data provided by Polk County, for free.
Landowners are not thwarted from building on their own land, or from dividing it to allow children to live here. And, as otherwise in Polk County’s ordinances, family subdivisions are given special considerations to make family development easier.
Question your source if someone tells you something different. Read the ordinances for yourself.
Mr. Gibson cites the rock outcroppings along Highway 176 as evidence of no need for slope protections. But rock outcroppings are not what MRPO concentrates on. Perhaps Mr. Gibson should have come a bit farther down Highway 176 to be reminded of Chocolate Drop Mountain. Real landslides occurred there. Real damage was done to property owners on Chocolate Drop and, even more tragically, to homeowners at the base of the mountain. That’s not imaginary. That’s not “somewhere else.” That’s right here.
Quite a few of the people who oppose mountain and ridgeline protection have said, “I’m so tired of hearing about Chocolate Drop.” Are they asking people to just forget about it? To deny that it ever happened? And why are they so derisive of those who are concerned about mountain and ridgeline protection? We’ll be condemned to repeat that Chocolate Drop history, and tragedy, if we follow those peoples’ advice to forego mountain and ridgeline protection.
Mr. Gibson seems to doubt that there has been property damage and loss of lives from landslides. Incumbent Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden suggested that reports of it were not true. But all either one needed to do was to Google “landslides in western nc” to see the destruction and, yes, death that occurs when mountain construction is improperly or unwittingly done.
One article refers to “a torrent of mud rushing down from Fishhawk Mountain [washing] away 15 homes and [killing] five people in Peeks Creek.” “A 2009 investigation by the Citizen-Times found that 534 slides since 1990 have destroyed 40 homes and buildings.”
A mudslide in Maggie Valley destroyed a home.  And “a slow-moving landslide of about five acres” made living in Mike Boggan’s home in Franklin too dangerous.  Mr. Boggan’s house was condemned, and he had to move in with friends.
Homebuyers in Henderson County were also victimized by unscrupulous or unskilled builders who built on unstable slopes, causing the construction to settle and slide. Homeowners needed to build extensive retaining walls for tens of thousands of dollars to rescue the construction, and even that may not have worked.  Lawsuits were brought. At that time, Henderson County officials said they wished they’d had mountain and ridgeline protections in place so all of that could have been avoided.  Polk County wisely adopted such ordinances three years ago.
Even if the elevation threshold is removed from Polk County’s ordinance, which now seems likely, it is essential to retain the Best Management Practices building techniques in the Mountain and Ridgeline Protection Ordinances for both sloped areas and ridgelines.  Those practices protect homeowners against unscrupulous or unknowing developers (which we have already experienced right here). That’s only sensible.
Go to the website and you’ll learn that all of Western North Carolina has been designated a “High Risk Landslide Hazard Zone.”  Using a link from the site (pretty far down), you can see graphic photographs of damage from landslides in Western North Carolina. The site will also tell you that there is no insurance to cover damage from landslides.
The best insurance, the only insurance, is keeping in place the geologically and otherwise scientifically-based mountain and ridgeline protections that Polk County has previously adopted so that soil, surface water and other land conditions are investigated before building and so that building is done safely in the first place.
– Renée McDermott, Polk County Board of Commissioners

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