Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dangerous mis-information on earth fissures

If you’re buying a home in Arizona, you may be sold a report telling you that there are no earth fissures affecting the property, but that may not be true.

This problem arose in recent months as a result of a confusing line in state legislation passed last year in House Bill 2779. Last year’s law says the Arizona Geological Survey will make available “maps of soils subject to fissures” so that anyone can look at the maps and see if their home or property is at risk. But soils don’t control earth fissures. Fissures form at depths of perhaps hundreds of feet, independent of the type of soil present at the surface. Thus, it is impossible to create maps to show “soils subject to fissures.”

There are companies that offer reports to homebuyers about things around a property that could affect your decision to buy – such as landfills, airports, asbestos, and yes, earth fissures. Some companies, however, appear to find the lack of maps of “soils subject to fissures” as evidence that fissures do not exist in the area and that’s what they write in their reports to buyers. That is a dangerous assumption to make.

There are two bills before the current state legislature to fix this problem – HB2323 and SB1338. They would correct the legislation passed last year that is causing the problems today.

Public safety will be improved when people are not led incorrectly to believe their properties are labeled as fissure-free.

What AZGS is doing, is to make detailed maps of earth fissures, which can be viewed and downloaded from the State Land Department website, with other maps layers such as topography and the road system. Those maps are being made area by area and will be released as each area is complete.

In the meantime, don’t assume the lack of a map is reason to believe that earth fissures don’t exist in an area.

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