Everything has fallen into place for a government-sponsored cleanup of the Rich Cove mudslide in Maggie Valley, an undertaking pegged at roughly $1.47 million.
The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service agreed last week to foot 75 percent of the bill to stabilize the slide through the Emergency Watershed Protection program, which helps repair watersheds damaged by natural disasters.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has agreed to fund much of the remaining 25 percent local match since the slide affects a state-maintained road.
Maggie Valley’s town government has agreed to chip in $25,000 toward the local match, while Ghost Town in the Sky, a bankrupt amusement park where the slide originated, has volunteered $25,000 as well, but possibly in in-kind services rather than cash.
Town officials were driven by a sense of urgency to lock down funding for the cleanup since a large part of the mountainside remains unstable and threatens an even worse slide.
“I don’t think we have a choice but to do it,” said Maggie Valley Alderwoman Saralyn Price. “Because I feel like it’s a safety issue.”
At first, the town was at a loss for how it’d come up with the local match, which under current estimates comes to $334,000. Maggie Valley could hardly afford the whole amount by itself.
The town asked county leaders for help, but they balked at the idea of committing tax dollars to fix a slide that originated on private property — even though the property owner is in bankruptcy with a long trail of debt and was unable to pay up, either.
In the end, N.C. Rep. Phil Haire and N.C. Sen. Joe Sam Queen stepped in, teaming up to secure emergency funding from the N.C. DOT.
“We realize the dire circumstances those people who use Rich Cove Road were in,” said Haire. “I’m certainly glad Sen. Queen and I could do all we could to help out.”
Alderman Scott Pauley said Friday he was disappointed in the county board for not pitching in.
“We’ve got county residents and town residents that are losing sleep every night and haven’t slept since the slide,” said Pauley.
Pauley called the town’s contribution of $25,000 “a small, small cost to get this done.”
Town Manager Tim Barth said the town had to take action because it was unrealistic to expect Ghost Town to foot the bill.
“The reality is Ghost Town is in bankruptcy,” said Barth. “I know that they don’t have $334,500, so there’s no point in forcing them to pay because they won’t.”
However, Barth and Pauley have not ruled out the possibility of suing Ghost Town to be reimbursed. For now, Pauley said the focus is on getting the cleanup going.
“Anything after that is going to have to be for a later date,” said Pauley.
Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver said he hopes to pay the company’s share of the cleanup cost by contributing work from Ghost Town’s engineer.
“We want to make sure that he’s involved completely,” Shiver said.
Shiver also pointed out that Ghost Town has already cooperated with NCDOT, and state and local agencies to help study the slide and facilitate cleanup.
According to Shiver, the economic importance of Ghost Town to Maggie Valley “far outweighs” the government’s investment to repair the slide.
“There are issues that we all must be a part of the solution,” said Shiver. “This is one of them.”