Prone to landslides, Haywood seeks priority in slope hazard mapping

The landslide last month that destroyed a home in Maggie Valley has spurred the Haywood County commissioners to ask the state for help in keeping county residents safe.

The board of commissioners discussed two separate requests for the state at its meeting on Monday (Feb. 2).

First, commissioners are asking the state to schedule Haywood County for landslide hazard mapping. Two counties — Macon and Watauga — have already been mapped through the state-funded program, which was put in place by the Hurricane Recovery Act of 2005. Henderson and Jackson counties are next on the list, and although the idea is to eventually map every county in WNC, no counties are planned after that.

Commissioners want Haywood next on the list.

“Haywood County has experienced numerous landslides in recent years, with two in the first month of 2009,” the commissioners’ resolution states.

The board is asking for Haywood to be given priority, requesting that the state, “consider scheduling Haywood County for mapping of landslide hazards at the state’s earliest opportunity.”

The second request commissioners are making to the state will likely be harder to fill. The board is asking the state to consider providing landslide insurance — something that is practically non-existent — to Western North Carolinians.

“The Board of Commissioners...recognizes the fact that there is currently no federal or state subsidized insurance for property lost to landslides and the potentially available commercial policies are cost prohibitive for the citizens of Western North Carolina,” the resolution states.

Commissioner Skeeter Curtis emphasized that the board is aware the request is expensive, but that it’s worth asking.

“It’s going to be very cost prohibitive, but I think we need to send this anyhow,” Curtis said.

Indeed, County Engineer Mark Shumpert said landslide insurance can only be obtained on the commercial broker market, and that he’s only heard of one company that offers it. Shumpert theorizes that landslide insurance is hard to get in part because landslides only happen in very specific regions, mostly the Appalachians and the Rockies.

People who have lost their homes to landslides have found they aren’t covered by their regular homeowners’ insurance, from the landslide in Maggie that turned a home into matchsticks to the more subtle slope movement that destabilized foundations of condos in the Hunters Crossing development, nonetheless rendering them unlivable.

Haywood commissioners unanimously approved both resolutions.

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