County plagued by landslides

By Vicki Hyatt | Jan 18, 2013
Photo by: Marc Pruett A slide off Black Camp Gap Road

After four days of steady rain last week, at least 16 known landslides were reported in Haywood County. There could be others that haven’t been reported or found yet, and with the predicted freeze/thaw cycle, more could come.

“There’s so many out there, it’s hard to number them,” said Marc Pruett, Haywood County’s erosion control officer.

There have been two in the Black Camp Gap area, several in the Plott Creek area and others in Maggie Valley and Waynesville.

Pruett is one of several in the county who are called in to an area after a slide.

“At that point, it’s mostly a safety issue,” he said. “When you look at it, you can give folks advice like, ‘don’t use the road,’ or ‘it’s probably OK to block one lane and hug the bank.’ I don’t know if we have the authority to stop them form using the road, but in cases where there’s increased potential for failure, we’ve been telling people to mark it.”

Luckily, there were no injuries from the slides that occurred last week, and only one home at the top of Skyline Drive on Eagle’s Nest Mountain was damaged by sliding water, mud and debris, said Fred Baker, the Waynesville public works director.

There were many spots where roads were blocked or undercut by slipping soil under the weight of hard and steady rain.

Pruett said he was on a conference call with the National Weather Service where it was noted some areas of the county had as much rain as in 2004 when massive flooding caused memories still vivid today.

“It was just spread out over more time,” Pruett said. “Everywhere we were driving, there was water coming off banks and springs where there hadn’t been springs in years.”

Many of the failures are in areas where slides have occurred previously, something that is common.

“A statistic a lot of people don’t realize is the weight of water,” Pruett said. “It is about 63 pounds a cubic foot. When get that much water in less than desirable soils, there’s more potential for failure. Water is the greatest enemy in civil works.”

A landslide in Smoky Falls Subdivision off Black Camp Gap Road pushed a car out of a driveway, but it missed the house by maybe 40 feet.  The Maggie Valley Fire Department had to evacuate residents in the middle of the night.

This slide, Pruett said, as well as another one that occurred on Long Branch Road, is near an area known as the “Moody Slide” where a $1 million-plus home had to be abandoned several years ago because of safety issues. An area right above the Maggie Valley water tower is being watched closely, as is the area beneath Ghost Town where a giant landslide several years that affected three dozen property owners and cost more than $1 million to repair.

Maggie Valley Fire Department Chief Chris Carver said the department had inspected four slides, including one on Summitt Drive.

“All we can do is bring the environmental people in and try to get the roads open,” he said, noting the dangers are not yet passed. “We’re still worried about the freezing/thawing part. I guess the whole county is.”

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