Road failure leave homeowners on foot

Repair work is nearly done
By Vicki Hyatt | Jan 05, 2014
Photo by: Vicki Hyatt Ed Spencer's home towers above U.S. 276 South where a slope failure in July took his concrete driveway down the mountain.

Families on Shadow Lane are hoping the affordable solution to a slope failure that had them parking at their subdivision entrance and hand-carrying everything from groceries to Christmas presents up their road will be a workable one.

The first sign of problems in the Waynesville area subdivision located just off U.S. 276 South, said homeowner Ed Spencer, cropped up last spring with a washout beneath his driveway. As the heavy rains that pummeled the county in 2013 continued, parts of the subdivision road to begin cracking and sliding. It was a July 19 event that ended all vehicular traffic to the area.

The damage not only blocked vehicle access to the occupied homes on that side of the subdivision, but raised fears that Spencer’s home, which is directly above the busy state highway, could tumble downhill, just as his concrete driveway had.

Luckily, when he built the home about seven years ago, Spencer went to the extra cost of having an engineer-approved plan.

“There were no cracks or signs of failure in the house,” Spencer said, “but the roads were put in when the subdivision was built in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. They were rough cut and had no engineering or special plans. The record-breaking rainfall this year took its toll.”

A summary of the situation prepared by the homeowners indicated that of the seven homes where road access was blocked, two were occupied full-time. One summer resident who had a 91-year-old in the household moved out after the road failure, and tenants with two school-age children indicated they would like to move, but had no way of getting a truck up the hill to haul out their belongings.

The initial engineer estimate to repair the damage and stabilize the road came in at $225,000 — an amount that included an engineered as opposed to conventional solution. It was an amount the seven affected homeowners simply couldn’t afford.

“The situation certainly had the potential to be ugly, but I think we salvaged it reasonably well,” Spencer said.

That solution included a modified plan the original engineer said should work, but wasn’t one he would put his seal on, Spencer explained. Ace Construction of Canton, a licensed grading firm, is doing the work that should be completed by next week.

Shane Valliere, Ace Construction owner, is certain the fix, which will cost the homeowners less than half the original cost, will hold.

Luckily, the slope shift wasn’t caused by underground water, but by poor stormwater management, a problem that can be addressed through proper drainage.

Through the use of best management practices that included removing the unsuitable material and replacing it with layers of correctly compacted soil, installing adequate drainage and reconfiguring parts of the slope, Valliere is certain the slope failure issues will be corrected.

“We found a lot of unsuitable materials,” Valliere said. “The area near Ed’s (Spencer) house was previously used for community dumping ground years and years ago. There were old shingles, PVC pipe, tires, pallets and a lot of garbage. It was not a natural slope, but filled in, which created a perfect setup for something to fail in the future.”


Finding funds

Before any repair could be started, the homeowners had to arrange for funding. Efforts to obtain outside help were unsuccessful, including the county and the N.C. Department of Transportation.

There are 15 undeveloped lots not associated with houses that can only be accessed through Shadow Lane, but owners who didn’t live in the area were unresponsive, the report stated.

Commissioner Kevin Ensley, the co-owner of three lots with appraiser Fred Spencer, offered a reason why.

“Unfortunately, the parcels are unbuildable due to the fact they will not support a septic system,” Ensley wrote in an email about the lots he owns. “Since I have a financial interest, I could not vote on the engineering board or BOCC, so I asked Marc (Pruett) if we could have a meeting with the property owners and DOT as well as other government agencies who may be able to offer some assistance.

Ensley said he strived to convince the DOT they had some responsibility for the slide since their road slope had failed, but the department didn’t agree.

“I suggested to the property owners to possibly pursue hiring an independent soil engineer, but I think they wanted to focus their efforts and funds on fixing the problem as soon as possible instead of fighting with the state.”

Efforts to work through the dormant homeowners association also met a dead end. The association includes homeowners on the other side of the mountain that weren't impacted by the slope failure, and owners weren’t interested in helping fund the repair.

Ultimately, those with homes along the failed road formed a separate homeowners association to secure funding for the repair. The projected cost per homeowner is $16,600, Spencer said.

As with all landslides, the damage was not covered by insurance, so it is one the homeowners will need to come up with out-of-pocket. There was little other choice, however. Walking away from their investment in their homes was just as unthinkable as having homes on a mountainside that couldn’t be accessed by vehicle, Spencer said.

And a solution is in sight. Ace Construction has been working when weather allows, including on New Year’s Day, to complete the job, he added.

The fix can't happen soon enough for the two full-time residents along the road, as well as other homeowners who enjoy escaping to their Haywood County home as often as possible.

The cold winter weather, along with an impassible road that prevented emergency vehicles or even fuel trucks from reaching the home on Shadow Lane, would have meant even tougher times for the families.