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Buying LandOwning Land

Landslide and Stability Considerations for Mountain Land

December 13, 2018
Landslide and Stability Considerations for Mountain Land
Photo courtesy of Appalachian Landslide Consultants, PLLC

Specializing in land brokerage affords opportunities to participate with other land experts in discussing critical topics that affect landowners and purchasers that most residential and commercial brokers don’t explore. One example is attending seminars such as the recent Slope Stabilization and Landslide Prevention Seminar held in Asheville, NC to identify and mitigate landslide risks. Jennifer Bauer, a licensed geologist and co-owner of Appalachian Landslide Consultants (ALC), led the seminar. Participants included engineers, scientists, geologists, architects, builders, and contractors from local and national firms in several states along the mountain region. In attending this seminar, I was able to learn more about how to identify and inform my clients of potential risks, when to connect them with regional experts, and I gained an understanding of how landowners might mitigate risks through passive and active measures. Dedicating time to learn the details of this topic enables me to empower my clients to mitigate risk and make informed decisions about their land, helping them to avoid loss of life and property.

We started by discussing the risks. Across Western NC there have been over 3,900 known landslides, killing approximately 47 people since 1916. Those slides were a mix of natural slope slides and slides where someone disturbed the ground in some way. Next, we looked at examples of five common types of slides and identifiable characteristics. That allowed us to discuss in more detail the evidence and signs of instability and the geologic conditions that contribute to slide susceptibility including: topographic, slope, soil, rock, and water characteristics. We then looked at examples of field-based evidence to understand how to identify the early signs of movement and slope failure, and the potentially catastrophic results of slides.

We then reviewed North Carolina Geologic Survey and ALC maps and data to understand slope movement, stability, and potential debris flow pathways in many of the counties in Western NC. The availability of this geospatial data allows landowners, developers, engineers, architects, and buyers to look at potential impact areas much like how a flood map is commonly used to identify potential flood impacts. They can then work with nature to either avoid these areas or stabilize them if necessary.

Photo courtesy of Appalachian Landslide Consultants, PLLC

Once we covered how to identify potential hazards, we then looked at various monitoring techniques and how to use that information. The most interesting portion of this discussion for me was a case study of a site in Macon County, NC that was monitored for a period of 4 years. Over that time, monitoring tools were able to identify over 46 inches of movement on an unstable slope as it slowly shifted to the west. This provided the landowner time to safely remove equipment from the property and make decisions about future site use.

The seminar then shifted focus to stabilization methods for soil and rock slopes, led by Bob Forbes and Roger Moore of Ameritech Slope Constructors. Since it’s not always an option to avoid the risks completely, multiple engineered solutions are available to stabilize a slope and prevent or limit future damage from a failure. We looked at example installations of these systems, design and planning requirements for implementation, and samples of products installed on a variety of sites. These solutions for soil slopes included vegetation and landscaping, stormwater management, buttressing, high strength mesh systems, walls, and more. And the solutions on rock slopes included scaling (removing loose material), drapes, anchors, shotcrete, and flexible barriers. For most of these techniques, we were able to see examples of sites where the engineered solutions were implemented.

We wrapped up the seminar with discussions on property evaluations and how to form a team of experts able to best support client needs. In this discussion, I was able to share two specific examples of how clients I’ve worked with have engaged ALC for evaluations. In one case, the prospective buyer of a lot hired them to evaluate the property during the due diligence period after I brought up concerns about the slope, drainage, and rubble on the property. ALC walked the property with the client and identified multiple areas of instability and movement that threated the only possible access route into the property. Evidence showed recent slides and a high potential for more movement. The client had planned to build a large expensive home on this property and this information allowed them to avoid the property and to search for a more suitable property for their large investment. A second client owned land they wanted to sell, however, it was adjacent to a property that had evidence of a recent landslide. They engaged ALC to evaluate their property and identify hazards and potential home site placement. In this case, some areas of the land were stable and other areas had the potential for further movement. This allowed the seller to inform potential buyers and show them where they could more safely build on the lot if they desired.

The course underscored the need for slope stability information to be an important part of land use decisions. Jennifer Bauer was clear in her commitment to public safety and to protect lives, property, and infrastructure through her work. And all of us involved in land brokerage, land planning, and development have a responsibility to look out for our clients best interest and make sure they are informed of risks like these.

I help my clients understand land and provide them with education and knowledge to make informed decisions. I also ensure they are working with the right legal, surveying, soil and landslide consultants, foresters, and other professionals to protect their interests and their land. If you’re looking for a professional land broker or need help understanding land issues like this, let me know! Pat Snyder,

About the Author
Pat (he/him/his) is a retired U.S. Air Force officer, active Rotarian, and manages Western NC land brokerage for National Land Realty. Clients hire him to help them navigate difficult land transactions, which he does through a consultative team approach. This includes research, analysis, and collaboration with trusted vendors and experts, all executed with skillful project management to keep transactions on schedule. Pat was ranked #9 out of over 21,132 regional REALTORs in total Land Sales for 2021 and ranked #12 in the nation for National Land Realty brokers that year. For Seller Clients: Pat invests in every client with unmatched national advertising tailored to appeal to the most likely buyers with a team of professionals who ensure properties have the best exposure. For Buyer Clients: He devotes time to educating and empowering them to make decisions based on market trends, conservation, timber, land use, legal concerns, and other factors important to land buyers. Pat is a Certified Negotiations Expert, REALTOR Land Institute Member, and on the board of directors of the Rotary Club of Asheville and EcoForesters (a non-profit focused on sustainable forestry practices and protecting the native Appalachian landscape). View Pat's Listings and Reviews on