Haywood County poised to buy abandoned Wal-Mart

Haywood County Commissioners are expected to vote this week to buy the abandoned Wal-Mart shopping center near Lake Junaluska and retrofit the space to house the Department of Social Services.

Commissioners will convene a special meeting on the issue Wednesday (Jan. 13) where a vote is likely. They have been considering the old Wal-Mart site for more than a year.

Commissioner Mark Swanger said there are several reasons the old Wal-Mart is under serious consideration by the county — primarily because it is the cheapest option. Swanger called it a potential “bargain” for taxpayers.

Remodeling the current DSS office building, which dates back to the late 1920s and early ‘50s, could suck the county into a money pit, Swanger said.

“It would require millions in renovations, heating air, roof windows and you still have an inadequate space for doing business,” Swanger said.

Other sticky issues include lack of privacy for DSS workers handling sensitive cases and lack of handicapped accessibility.

“It is in the bottom one percent of DSS facilities in the state of North Carolina,” Swanger said.

Commissioner Bill Upton detailed the never-ending maintenance issues.

“It’s going to need a new roof, it’s going to need windows, it’s not wired for today’s technologies,” said Upton. “We could go on and on about what it would cost us, we would still have an old building.”

Meanwhile, building something new — including the cost of buying land and site work — would likely be twice as much as what the county hopes to spend on the old Wal-Mart site.

Upton, who supports buying the Wal-Mart property, estimates that a brand new DSS building would scoop $25 to $30 million out of Haywood’s budget.

Taking over the Wal-Mart property will require extensive remodeling to turn the gaping retail shell into offices, but it already has a roof and comes with a parking lot, for example.

Upton is confident that the new county offices would serve as a strong anchor for the shopping center and stimulate adjacent businesses.

Until now, county leaders have had a bad habit of putting off the looming problem for another year, according to Swanger.

“I think it has been recognized by many boards that this space is unsuitable and inadequate,” Swanger said.

As the DSS building continued to deteriorate, the county spent the past decade building a new justice center, a new jail and remodeling the historic courthouse, tying up much of its capital, along with things like a new elementary school in Bethel and new buildings at Haywood Community College.

“I suppose it has been just a matter of priorities,” Swanger said.

Though negotiations have been on and off for more than a year, the county is now in a better financial position to buy the property, Upton said.

“If we don’t do something now, it’s going to cost us much more in the future to buy property and start building,” said Commissioner Skeeter Curtis.

Upton also pointed out the geographic location in the middle of the county as being convenient to a greater number of residents.

If approved on Wednesday, Haywood’s DSS and health departments might share the old Wal-Mart with Tractor Supply Co., which is in the process of signing a lease for a portion of the store.

Ice carvers set to compete at Haywood County’s innaugural Fire & Ice festival

Fellow ice carvers Jeff Pennypacker and Cary Shackelford are ever ready to etch out any sculpture that will satisfy their client’s whimsy.

The recently departed holiday season means Pennypacker has carved heaps of reindeers, snowflakes, New Year’s signs, champagne bottles and ice bars.

Meanwhile, Shackelford personalizes sculptures year-round to match each wedding. He has carved an ice castle with Cinderella slippers out front; a runner to recognize a marathon-running bride and groom pair; and even Ganesh, the elephant-headed God, for a Hindu wedding.

Most ice carvers must master flower vases, swans and eagles, as these are wildly popular with clients.

With 20 years of experience under his belt, Shackleford said he can chisel out a vase in a whopping 20 minutes or less.

But Shackelford is a little nervous about having a time limit looming overhead as he takes part in the first competition of his career next week.

Shackleford will be one of six carvers charged with creating the best ice sculpture in under two hours at the first annual Fire & Ice festival in Haywood County.

The competition asks carvers to whittle away the most impressive winter symbol from a huge block of ice.

Only one person can carve, but a helper can assist in moving the block, which can weigh 300 pounds or more.

Ice carving contests are a rarity in this region, which is one of the reasons Pennypacker was excited to get on board and help organize and sponsor the event.

“There’s not a whole lot of competition down this way,” said Pennypacker. “Most of them are up north.

Shackelford already has a sculpture in mind after Google searching “winter symbols” to help brainstorm. He usually gathers photographs and drawings to study before figuring out a plan of attack for each sculpture.

“Planning is the most important part of what we do,” Pennypacker said.


The lowdown on carving

Ice carvers utilize chainsaws and chisels, and now, some even use a computer mouse as part of the process.

Computer technology helps by doing basic cutting. But there’s still a lot of human input involved, since carvers do all the shaping and detail work.

On average, it takes Pennypacker two hours to create a sculpture, which itself lasts six to eight hours.

“Sculptures lasts longer than the party,” Shackelford said.

Luckily for the artists, not all is lost if an ice sculpture breaks in the making.

Shackelford can use the snow created when he cuts ice with a chainsaw, along with water, to help repair his work if necessary.

“Some people use liquid nitrogen, which is a little dangerous,” said Shackelford.

A common misconception about ice carving is the idea that one must shiver in a cold room while creating.

“You don’t have to be in the freezer to cut them,” said Shackelford.

In fact, colder temperatures make the job tougher since the ice becomes more brittle.

“You can crack it more easily when it’s cold,” said Shackelford.

Summertime is actually one of the best times to have an ice sculpture, Pennypacker said.

“The more the melt, the more spectacular the ice looks,” said Pennypacker.

For those itching to begin mastering the art, Shackelford has two words familiar to anyone who desires to learn a new trade: “patience” and “practice.”

“Don’t get discouraged if you break it because it will happen,” said Shackelford.

While you don’t have to be a chef to be an ice carver, most ice carvers also use their knife skills at restaurants. But leaving the kitchen to carve up a sculpture is nothing like a chore for Shackelford, an executive chef in Asheville.

“The best part of my job is to carve ice,” said Shackelford. “I don’t do it often enough.”

See Shackelford and five other ice carvers in action from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 23, at The Waynesville Inn.

Plastic bottle ban tough to police, but getting results

It may be illegal to throw away plastic bottles in North Carolina these days, but don’t expect a landfill patrol to start picking through your trash any time soon.

The state is still trying to divine how exactly to enforce the law, even though it’s been three months since the ban on plastic bottles in landfills went into effect.

“The was no way that I or my attendants were going to play trash police,” said Joel Ostroff, Macon County’s recycling coordinator. “Nobody in their right mind would sit there and say ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to have you go through every bag that comes in.’”

For now, the game plan for recycling directors involves more encouragement than punishment. They’ve been educating residents on the law rather than threatening them with fees for noncompliance.

“We believe we’ll get better cooperation if we’re not forcing people to do it, but are asking them to join us and cooperate with us,” said Ostroff.

That strategy has worked well so far, as recycling directors in WNC reported residents are increasingly recycling plastic.

“We’ve increased our amount of plastic by a ton a week,” said Stephen King, recycling director for Haywood County.

“People are recycling probably twice as much plastic as they were initially,” said Charles Bailey, supervisor of Swain County Waste Management.

Before the law went into effect, less than one out of every five plastic bottles were recycled in the state.

State lawmakers passed the plastic ban primarily to meet growing demand from companies that utilize recycled plastic in North Carolina and the Southeast. Rather than buying the plastic from elsewhere, these companies could use recycled plastic generated in state.

But there were other motives for passing the law, including environmental benefits and job creation.

“We support a lot of American jobs through it,” King said, adding that Haywood has five full-time positions devoted to recycling.

While landfills can be fined up to $15,000 for not complying with regulations, including the plastic bottle ban, incidental amounts of plastic are allowed.

“It’s extremely unlikely that anybody from the state will look inside anybody’s individual trash cans,” said Steve Mouw, the state’s recycling director. “[But we] may start looking at loads of garbage from commercial facilities.”

Initially, there was confusion over whether the law would apply in places like Swain and Jackson counties, which ship their trash out of state rather than operating a local landfill. But the ban does apply to transfer stations where trash is collected before being shipped out, Mouw said. No North Carolinian is exempt from the ban.

King said many have called him confused about the law, and others have even tried to hide plastic bottles in their trash bags, which puzzled King.

“It takes more effort to hide it than recycle,” King said.

For those who are regularly mystified about what can be recycled and what can’t, King has a general recommendation.

“When in doubt, put it in the recycling bin,” said King. “If it’s definitely something we can use, we’ll use it.”

Associated Packaging Technologies in Waynesville, which uses recycled soda and water bottles to make frozen food trays and bowls, is anxious to see how the law impacts business.

“We’re cautiously optimistic on how it pans out,” said Tony Gallo, director of sustainability for the company. The state is right to treat bottles as a resource, Gallo added.

“You can either reuse that resource or you can do what we’ve done historically and that’s bury it in the ground...that’s a waste,” said Gallo. “We’ve invested a lot of resources to make it the first time and to be able to reuse it is the right way to go.”


The never-ending battle

While many recycling coordinators regularly make presentations to schools and businesses, certain demographics still aren’t getting the message.

“There’s always those people you’re never going to reach no matter what you do,” said Joel Ostroff, Macon County’s recycling coordinator.

The worst recyclers, according to Ostroff, are between 18 and 40, since that age demographic is more likely to be focusing on careers and raising families than recycling.

The solution lies in educating students early on about the benefits of recycling, so that more adults retain the recycling habit throughout their lifetimes, Ostroff said. The earlier students are educated about recycling, the more likely they are to retain their recycling habit.

Fund for Haywood County announces $16,000 in grants for recession relief

The Fund for Haywood County recently handed out $16,000 in grants to county nonprofits providing services for recession relief.

The Fund for Haywood County, an affiliate of The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, was established in 1994 by a group of local residents as a permanent endowment and resource for charitable efforts that benefit Haywood County.

The grantees are:

• The Community Kitchen — $2,600 to support a food ministry that provides hot, nutritious meals and food boxes to poor and struggling individuals in Canton.

• Crabtree, Iron Duff, Hyder Mountain Community Development Club — $1,400 toward emergency assistance with heating and utilities to keep residents safe and warm in their homes despite economic hardship.

• Fines Creek Community Association — $2,000 to purchase a freezer, increasing storage for the distribution of nutritious foods through the federal Emergency Food and Assistance Program, especially for seniors and mothers with children in this rural community in Haywood County.

• Good Samaritan Clinic of Haywood County — $4,000 toward operating expenses including medical supplies, staffing and other necessary expenses to continue the free medical clinic serving uninsured adults.

• Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church — $2,000 toward the Open Door program that provides food and emergency assistance to families struggling with basic needs as a result of the recession in Haywood County.

• REACH of Haywood County, Inc. — $4,000 toward operating expenses of the emergency shelter providing housing to women and children displaced from their homes due to domestic violence

To help The Fund for Haywood County, donate online at www.cfwnc.org or by mail to The Fund for Haywood County, P.O. Box 627, Waynesville, NC, 28786. Contributions of any size are welcome and are tax-deductible. For more information, contact 828.734.6791.

Haywood tourism leaders critical of state’s response to rockslide

State officials have not turned a blind eye to the economic pain caused by the rockslide in Western North Carolina, but Haywood Tourism Development Authority officials say their strategy is off the mark.

First off, the state’s tourism division is devoting $110,000 to a radio campaign in the Raleigh and Charlotte areas informing potential travelers they can still visit WNC despite the Interstate 40 closure.

The campaign was driven by a survey conducted by the state commerce department in the wake of the rockslide.

After polling 1,000 prospective travelers in Atlanta, Charlotte, Columbia, S.C., Knoxville, Raleigh, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, state officials concluded that misconceptions about the road closure reigned in Raleigh and Charlotte.

“Unfortunately, that’s not our markets for this time of year,” Collins said. “I know innkeepers are concerned about the Florida market. They would like to see additional advertising [there].”

During the holiday season, Collins said most travelers to Haywood County hail from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina.

According to the research, however, people in Raleigh and Charlotte seemed most likely to change their travel plans to avoid WNC, said Wit Tuttell, spokesman for the state Division of Tourism.

Tuttell said the state had to look at the entire region, not just Haywood County, even though the rockslide occured there.

“We have to represent everybody,” said Tuttell, adding that the state does help promote skiing in WNC, including at Cataloochee, with an annual $75,000 marketing campaign that targets the Southeast.

In partnership with the North Carolina Ski Association, the state funds television advertising in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida.

From Thanksgiving until Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the radio campaign will direct listeners to the state Division of Tourism’s Web site for further information.

That Web site has already gotten 12,000 hits on its rockslide advisory page, which includes ample maps and directions.

“We know we’ve got people’s attention with that,” said Tuttell.

Meanwhile, Haywood’s TDA has dedicated $15,000 toward its own marketing campaign.

Part of that money helped the TDA buy Google Adwords for “Western North Carolina” and “rockslide” to direct Internet searchers to its Web site, which prominently displays multiple detours to the region.


Wrangling over signs

Haywood tourism officials are also miffed with the North Carolina Department of Transportation for not putting up more signs indicating that WNC is still open for business.

Collins said the TDA worked with N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, to coax the DOT to change its wording on electronic road signs. Signs initially warned drivers upon reaching Asheville that Interstate 40 was closed ahead and lured drivers to take a detour around WNC. New language was incorporated to list which exits were still open beyond Asheville

But since then, Collins has heard reports that that language isn’t consistently visible.

Reuben Moore, division operations engineer for DOT’s Division 14, which includes Haywood County, said the signs cycle through the messages, so drivers can miss part of it.

“If you miss the message the first time, you might get part of it the second time around,” said Moore. The letters are two feet tall, which allows people to begin reading the signs six seconds away.

Joel Setzer, division engineer for 10 western counties, said the DOT had to be careful not to direct truck traffic across the Great Smokies with the new signage.

“The DOT is trying to get out accurate information out that does not promote commercial and high volumes of traffic to U.S. 441 because that would be unsafe,” Setzer said.

Collins said even if the signs haven’t changed, she hopes the DOT will put up more signs that state WNC is open for business, ideally capturing the attention of drivers upon first entering the region as far out as Hendersonville on I-26 and Hickory on I-40.

Haywood’s lower classification pleases economic official

Haywood County was more economically distressed this year, according to state rankings that essentially classify the counties from wealthiest to poorest.

But Mark Clasby, executive director for the economic development commission, is far from disappointed about the news.

“I’m very pleased,” said Clasby.

That’s because the lower ranking allows Haywood much greater access to tax incentives that could attract new businesses – and jobs – to the area.

The ranking reflects only a minor move down the line, with the state bumping Haywood down four spots, from 81st to 77th.

“This is all relative to the other 99 counties,” said Deborah Barnes, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Commerce, which creates the rankings. “It doesn’t mean your county is in dire shape all of a sudden.”

In fact, median income, property tax base per capita and household income all increased in Haywood County this year, according to Barnes.

“Unfortunately, your unemployment rate went up, too,” said Barnes. Latest statistics show the unemployment rate in Haywood was at 9 percent in October.

Every year, the state Department of Commerce categorizes all counties into one of three tiers. The most prosperous counties in the state (ranked 81-100) are classified as Tier 1, the next bunch (ranked 41-80) are placed in Tier 2, while the most economically distressed counties (1-40) are classified as Tier 1.

Last year, Haywood just barely squeaked into the Tier 3 classification, occupying the last place in a tier containing the state’s wealthiest counties.

Falling a few spots in 2009 means Haywood is now a Tier 2 county again. But Clasby thinks that’s a more accurate assessment anyway.

“I never felt that we were Tier 3 because we’re a rural county,” said Clasby, who referred to Tier 3 counties, like Buncombe, Wake and Mecklenburg, as “major league.”

The rankings make a significant difference when it comes to applying for tax incentives, according to Clasby.

For example, establishing 10 new jobs in a Tier 3 county could mean a potential $7,500 in tax credits for a business.

Companies might be drawn toward developing in a Tier 2 county instead, scoring a potential $50,000 tax credit for the same 10 jobs.

Meanwhile, establishing those ten jobs in a Tier 1 County could mean $125,000 in tax credits.

Clasby said Haywood being in Tier 2 means he has more tools to work with when attracting businesses, but that doesn’t mean he would want Haywood to drop to Tier 1.

“Being near the top of Tier 2, I’m happy,” said Clasby.

Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown said he had mixed feelings about the ranking change.

“The good news is we have more incentives available. The bad news is that we’re poorer,” said Brown. “It’s like a doctor saying your blood pressure is higher, but you have better medicine to take care of it.”

In Brown’s view, the rankings aren’t likely to have much of an impact since the recession has deterred growth.

“We’re in the middle of an economic tsunami,” said Brown. “Ain’t nobody doing anything anyway.”

Malicious prosecution lawsuit unfounded, magistrate rules

A malicious prosecution lawsuit by a woman accused of misappropriating flood relief donations should be dropped, according to the recommendation of a federal magistrate reviewing the case.

Denise Mathis, former director of the Haywood County Council on Aging, claims she was wrongly accused of mismanaging the finances of her former agency. Mathis lost her job and was charged with 14 counts of embezzlement in 2006 for allegedly misappropriating $100,000 in flood relief donations — one piece out of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that poured into the county in the wake of massive flooding along the Pigeon River that wiped out dozens of homes and businesses in 2004.

In an attempt to clear her name, Mathis sued District Attorney Mike Bonfoey and Waynesville Detective Tyler Trantham for malicious prosecution and accused them of inadequately investigating her case. She also sued them for conspiracy and making false public statements.

But the federal magistrate found no evidence that Bonfoey or Trantham set out to malign Mathis. They were acting in their official capacity as a prosecutor and police detective and cannot be sued simply because the target of an investigation doesn’t like the outcome.

“To do so would subject every prosecutorial decision, every investigation that leads to charges, and every decision of a grand jury to be second guessed by a federal court,” Magistrate Dennis Howell wrote in his recommendation.

Whether the case is indeed dropped will be up to a federal judge, who will presumably take the magistrate’s recommendation into account.

“The Magistrate’s ruling confirms the town’s strongly held belief that Officer Trantham acted professionally in all respects and that absolutely no wrongful acts were committed by him or town employees,” Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown said.

The embezzlement charges against Mathis were ultimately dropped. While the $100,000 in question did not make it into the hands of flood victims as donors intended, it likewise didn’t go into Mathis’ pocket, a police detective and financial investigator determined. It was used to cover salaries and overhead of the nonprofit agency — and it therefore would be hard to make the embezzlement charges stick in court, Bonfoey said of his decision to drop the charges.

Jonathan Creek park moves closer to reality

Haywood County commissioners decided Monday to move forward with the design phase for a proposed public park and sports field in Jonathan Creek.

The county’s Recreation and Parks Department is accepting conceptual proposals from local consultants until Dec. 30.

Though the public park is a recreational priority, the recession has pushed the project to the backburner.

“This has always been one of our front projects,” said Claire Carleton, recreation director for Haywood. “But [we realize] that this is not the time to ask for additional county funding.”

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick is looking forward to making progress on the park.

“We really need to proceed with a plan if we’re going to do anything with this in the future,” said Kirkpatrick. “The property is just sitting there.”

The 2007 comprehensive master plan calls for lighted baseball/softball fields, picnic facilities, creek access, a multipurpose field and sustainable design concepts at the new park.

The planning and design stage, which will include public input, is expected to take four to six months.

As of now, about $15,250 has been set aside for the planning process. Most will be funded with tourism revenue, with about $10,000 coming from lodging taxes collected in Maggie Valley and Waynesville.

Much public money has already been invested in the proposed park since 2007.

The county dropped $1 million on the 22-acre parcel in the midst of a heated bidding war that year. Soon after the county successfully bought the property, it became entangled in a lawsuit with a farmer who argued the property owner, Lucius Jones, had promised the land would be signed over to him upon Jones’ death.

The county did not settle the case until November 2008, and since then it has been leasing the property to the very same farmer.

Developers have plans for sites near Wal-Mart

A local developer has purchased a key parcel alongside Super Wal-Mart in Waynesville, potentially kick-starting long-awaited commercial redevelopment along the South Main Street corridor.

The coming of Super Wal-Mart was heralded as an instant recipe for growth around it. But by the time Wal-Mart opened its doors a year ago, the recession was in full swing. Not only has a South Main boom failed to materialize, but Home Depot killed plans to open a store there.

But Brian Noland, a Waynesville developer and Realtor, is drafting plans for a retail strip sporting six storefronts along South Main Street with hopes of attracting national franchises.

“I put myself in their shoes, and if I am looking to go somewhere, that is definitely a hot spot,” Noland said, citing traffic volume from Wal-Mart and the easy access off the U.S. 23-74 bypass.

Noland closed on the two-acre parcel this month for $600,000. The total project will cost several million dollars, he said. Noland hopes to have the building completed and occupied by early summer.

Mark Clasby, the Haywood County Economic Development Director, said he is glad to see movement in the area. While Waynesville has the consumer demand to support many of the national franchises Noland is likely courting, scouts often look solely at population data, Clasby said.

“But we know there are more people than that because of tourists and the second-home market. They just don’t necessarily show up,” Clasby said. “It will take some salesmanship to convince [retailers] from a demographic standpoint that ‘You need to be here.’”

Noland has a national franchise broker working to line up leases. Noland said he was “a very small fish in a big sea,” but believes if he builds it, they will come.

Meanwhile, a second so-called “outparcel” in the Super Wal-Mart complex has also sold. A 1.8-acre tract behind Hardees sold for $550,000. The developer of the site, Donald Holland, has submitted site plans to the town for a car wash and oil change business and an additional commercial building for an unidentified tenant. The site is located along the Waynesville Commons entrance drive off South Main Street.

While Noland has not yet locked in leases, he already has the project underway with the building design. The attractive architecture will sport stacked stone and stucco with varying rooflines and pronounced eaves. It’s a good thing, since a run-of-the-mill, monotonous, low-slung strip mall wouldn’t pass muster with the town’s design standards. Noland has yet to submit his plans to the town for approval, but believes the town will like the look.

The development of the Super Wal-Mart outparcels were considered key to the appearance of South Main. Town leaders hoped attractive developments fronting South Main would visually shield the sprawling Wal-Mart parking lot set further back on the site.

Noland is a Realtor with Remax Creekside Realty. He is currently developing a 46-unit affordable townhouse development in the Clyde area. His first foray into development was in the mini-storage unit business 14 years ago. He has also built and operated three car wash and lube locations in Haywood County.

“I love developing. I really do,” Noland said. “Hopefully, the whole shopping center itself will be a one-stop shop.”

Noland has had the property under contract for 10 months. He purchased it from Cedarwood Development, a national firm that developed the complex known as Waynesville Commons and leases the site to Super Wal-Mart.

Several property owners along the corridor have had their property on the market since the coming of Super Wal-Mart, even booting out current tenants in anticipation of hot demand by national chains seeking proximity to the retail giant. So far, these property owners have failed to find takers.

Best Buy and a Verizon Wireless store are the only two major retailers that have set up shop around Wal-Mart so far.

The 12-acre site immediately beside Wal-Mart that was once slated for a Home Depot does not appear to have a taker yet. Home Depot, which had already purchased the site and even designed a building before backing out, still owns the site and is actively marketing it.

“The economy has obviously had an impact on that,” Clasby said. “It’s not an easy market, there is no question about it.”

No quick fix for rock slide that closes I-40

Western North Carolina is bracing itself for the impact of a massive rockslide that will shut down a major chunk of Interstate 40 near the Tennessee border for about three months.

The rockslide occurred 2 a.m. Sunday morning three miles from the Tennessee state line in Haywood County, burying both sides of the highway under a mountain of rubble 150 feet high and 200 to 300 feet wide.

Three vehicles crashed into the rocks shortly after the slide, and one person was transported to the hospital for minor injuries.

“We were very fortunate. There were no serious injuries or fatalities,” said Nicole Meister, spokeswoman for N.C. Department of Transportation.

Since the slide, the N.C. DOT declared an emergency, shut down 20 miles of I-40, and brought in workers to begin surveying the slide site.

The cleanup will cost from $2 to $10 million.

Visitors driving westward to Tennessee are being turned away at exit 20, while locals are getting the go-ahead to sneak up to exit 15, the main road access for the Fines Creek and White Oak communities, as well as the county landfill.

About 25,000 vehicles pass through the closed section of I-40 daily, with about half of those being commercial trucks, according to the NCDOT.

Geotechnical engineers are working with the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the land, to determine how best to clean up the rockslide.

On Monday, this process involved flyovers with a helicopter and taking numerous pictures of the slide.

Workers will have to take a top-down approach when it comes to removing the rubble.

“If you pull it out from the bottom, it’s going to keep coming,” said Meister.

This stretch of the interstate in Haywood County has been no stranger to slides.

Sunday’s rockslide occurred just a mile and a half down the road from the series of slides that occurred in 1997, which shut down part of the interstate for six months. It is the third major rockslide in that area since the mid-1980s.

Joel Setzer, a division engineer with NCDOT, said the latest rockslide is comprised of more rocks and a lot less soil, compared to the one in 1997.

Setzer said the amount of unstable material above the road seems to be a bigger problem this time around.

“The remedy to stabilizing the slope and restoring the traffic is larger,” said Setzer.

Geotechnical scientists and engineers do not know the exact cause of the slide, but are looking at several potential factors, including possible tremors; freezing and thawing of water in cracks in a wedge in the slope, causing expansion and contraction of the rock plates.

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