Landowners held accountable in wake of landslideWritten by Julia Merchant
Property owners at the site of last month’s landslide in Maggie Valley are being tasked by county officials with the job of stabilizing the mountain in the wake of the slide.
The county has given the property owners until Feb. 21 to have a professional inspection conducted of the collapsed slope, the first deadline in a long remediation process.
Edward and Pamela McAloon, whose house sat on a nearly vertical slope, weren’t home when a 300-foot wall of mud slid off their property during heavy rains Jan. 7, destroying the home of their downhill neighbors Bruce and Lorraine Donin. The Donins, who were on the second and third floors of their house when the slide occurred, emerged badly shaken but uninjured.
Haywood County’s slope ordinance passed in 2006, too late to force the McAloons to hire an engineer and submit a slope stability plan when constructing their house on such steep terrain. But it does give the county power to force the McAloons to clean up the mess. In contrast, counties without such an ordinance lack the power to force any slope remediation by the property owner, meaning a failed slope may never be fixed or fixed at taxpayers’ expense.
Haywood’s ordinance gives the county’s engineering review board power to step in and require the owners of property “upon which a critical slope is located” to have a professional inspection performed to determine what it will take to fix the slope. On Jan. 22, the engineering review board gave the McAloons 30 days to do just that.
The board will also instate a timeline for repair of the slope, said County Engineer Mark Shumpert — another authority put in place by the slope ordinance.
The county can require the property owner “to repair the slope to adequately eliminate the hazard...within a time period as determined by the Engineering Review Board.”
The county has not yet set a timeline for the McAloons to repair their slope because of some issues that complicate the site, Shumpert said, such as access.
“Access to the site is going to be very difficult,” he said. “To cross that stream they may have to work with the Corps of Engineers and the Division of Water Quality, in order to obtain the permits to do that.”
Getting the proper permits to work around the stream that runs through the property will likely be the biggest obstacle to repairing the slope.
“It might take them six months to give them the permits they need,” Shumpert said. That’s why the county has opted not to set a timeline for remediation just yet.
Shumpert said he has not heard from the McAloons since the slide, and doesn’t know if they’ve hired a contractor to evaluate and start repairs.
But the attorney retained by the McAloons, Canton Lawyer Pat Smathers, said the couple has hired an engineer to take a look at the property. Smathers would not say whether his clients should be held financially responsible for the disaster, though he did say, “they regret what occurred.”
County inspection records indicate the McAloons were warned at least three times about the slope’s potential for failure.
The Donins, whose home was destroyed by the slide, have retained attorney David Wijewickrama of Waynesville, though they have not filed a lawsuit.