Following November's deadly wildfires, some people in Sevier County are addressing concerns about the potential for landslides.
At Tuesday night's Gatlinburg City Commission meeting, longtime resident and risk management expert Erik Cooper voiced his concern about landslides.
"I would hate for that to be our next catastrophe," he told members.
He spoke with 10Listens on Wednesday, to further explain.
"All the trees and the underbrush here got burned out the night of the fire, Nov. 28," Cooper said, gesturing to the mountain slopes bordering downtown Gatlinburg. "The root systems are likely unstable because of the burn, the deep, hot fire burn into the ground, and if it's killed the trees, we have standing soldiers that have no base. And the possible risk is that these trees could give way, loosen the soil and slide the soil downhill."
Cooper has owned property in Gatlinburg since 1993. He lives there and owned a risk management and insurance business for more than 20 years. Some of his cases, he said, dealt with the aftermath of wildfires and landslides.
He sees the risk for landslides or mudslides both throughout the city of Gatlinburg and in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Included in park property is the Spur, which is the main road between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and the Gatlinburg Bypass, which takes drivers heading from Pigeon Forge to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park up and around Gatlinburg.
GSMNP spokesperson Dana Soehn said the park used a treatment along those roadways called hydroseeding, where they sprayed at-risk slopes with a grass seed mixture.
"That came out in kind of a plant-based mat that provided structure immediately to help reduce erosion and sedimentation," Soehn told 10News Wednesday. "Then, of course, after the seeds germinated and roots developed, it continues to hold those soils in place."
She said an inter-agency team, headed by FEMA, is currently studying risks and results from the wildfires in Sevier County, including the potential for landslides.
Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner tells 10News the city just received a grant in order for it to start hydroseeding.
Cooper said he hopes the city does hydroseeding from the top of slopes, downward - and not just from roads along the bottom of the mountain.
"If everything above breaks loose and causes it to slide down, it's going to erode all of that and push it right into the road and beyond," Cooper said. "Thousands of pounds of trees and all the rocks in the landscape gives way and causes it to slide downhill. If that happens, it could be Gatlinburg's next catastrophe."
Holding up a clump of bright green grass attached to dark, stubbly soil, Cooper said, "this was pulled from a section that was hydroseeded ... The root system is less than half of an inch to an inch deep."
The root structure is "better than nothing," he said, adding though that "better than that is to cut out all the dead trees that are up there while we can, ahead of the rainstorms that are likely to come in April and May and do the best that we can to hydroseed that section and try to sustain the soil as best as possible."
Chris Dunaway was also at Tuesday's commission meeting.
"The city needs a huge overhaul in its emergency plans and who runs it," he told members during his allotted time to speak.
This 17-year Gatlinburg resident lost his home and a cat in the wildfires.
He and other fire victims gathered at the meeting to ask for answers about that night.
"I specifically asked, I said, 'What is your emergency evacuation plan?'" Dunaway recounted to 10News on Wednesday. "And I looked right at them and all they said was, 'We'll get back to you.' And I did not like that."
Mayor Werner tells 10News the city will do its best to answer their questions "as soon as possible and that it's time as a community to move on in a positive manner."
Dunaway said he and his fellow wildfire support group members will continue to attend city and county meetings until their questions are answered.
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