Lessons from the Oso Mud Slide

There are two articles in the last 48 hours on the Oso mud slide which are worth reading, especially as it relates to the Olympic Peninsula. Timothy Egan, a northwest based writer produced, “A Mudslide, Foretold”, in which he claims that logging over legal limits likely were part of the problems that caused the slide.

DON’T tell me, please, that nobody saw one of the deadliest landslides in American history coming… enough with the denial, the willful ignorance of cause and effect, the shock that one of the prettiest valleys on the planet could turn in a flash from quiet respite in the foothills of the North Cascades to a gravelly graveyard.

New York Times Article by Timothy Egan

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/opinion/sunday/egan-at-home-when-the-earth-moves.html?hp&rref=opinion&_r=0

We also now know that the State has been monitoring this very slope for over 25 years, with a very specific report given to DNR from the Department of Ecology in 1997, DNR chose to ignore that science and use data from 1988 to issue much greater logging areas than the scientists from Ecology recommended.

State used outdated data to allow logging on slope – Seattle Times

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2023266702_mudslideloggingmapxml.html

How much the homeowners themselves knew about all this in advance are likely to range from nothing to choosing to ignore the issues. That would be understandable, as choosing to move out of harms way is a hard decision, and some folks likely couldn’t afford to. But the County knew, and the State knew. Likely the city of Oso knew as well. Could they have taken actions such as banning logging from the plateau above the river? Yes. Could they have offered buy outs to the homeowners at fair market value to plow these homes under and stop habitation of the land along the river corridor? Yes. Should increased setbacks from rivers and shores be implemented for future building, be implemented in local laws like Shoreline Master Programs? Yes.

Are there others in harms way in Snohomish County (and elsewhere)? Seems so.

Landslide risk widespread in county; 30,000 in hazard zones 

http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140330/NEWS01/140339947/Landslide-risk-widespread-in-county-30000-in-hazard-zones
…. The approximately 50 houses east of Oso swept aside by the March 22 landslide were hardly the only ones built near unstable land in Snohomish County. Hazard maps show almost all of the county’s coastline and mountain valleys are in landslide danger zones. An estimated 30,000 people live in those places, according to a 2010 study commissioned by the county. By 2035, the county is expected to absorb roughly 200,000 more people. There are about 730,000 today…. The county can’t afford to buy out property owners in landslide areas. Plus, people have a right to stay and, under certain conditions, to build. Existing laws and policies governing development in Snohomish County didn’t keep people in Oso out of harm’s way. Under the county’s building regulations, the area where homes were built wasn’t even designated high-risk for landslides. Noah Haglund and Dan Catchpole report. (Everett Herald)

It’s also becoming known that many of the homeowners didn’t have flood insurance, probably because they lived within the boundaries of a known flood plain.

This also gets to the core of a bill recently supported by Representative Derek Kilmer, (Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act), who proudly boasted of supporting the roll back of insurance costs and support by the Federal government for home and business owners along the shore who have seen a huge increase in their flood insurance due to the outcome of Hurricane Sandy. The insurance companies have obviously decided  to no longer take the risk to insure people who have been allowed, by the county and the State, to build homes and businesses at locations that are likely to be flooded  by Tsunami or global warming related storms. This is how the market should work. If the risk is too high, then you choose to live there at your own risk. This is what all the property rights people keep screaming for, that the government should get out of their lives. Now they and others seem quite happy to have us taxpayers pay for their risk.  And of course, Representative Kilmer says, ‘sure’.

If people want to live at sea level, or in a flood plain, since government seems incapable of stopping it, then the marketplace should. Or the marketplace should state that it’s at your own risk to do so. That’s what Representative Kilmer has stopped by supporting the House bill to rollback or nationalize the insurance risk. Now, people will continue to assume there is low or no risk in continuing to build and live in harm’s way.

As to Oso, The State and County should be held responsible for ignoring science and allowing logging to continue on the slope with outdated science. That is the only way we are going to get the government to do the right thing. But again, the failure of DNR to do the right thing will be a cost that you and I have to pay. The department heads that made that decision are likely long gone, and certainly won’t be held accountable for their  decisions. It’s you and I that will be.

And the people who rail about how the government should get out of their lives and stop making rules that take away their rights to do whatever they want whenever they want, should take a hard look at where they live, and whether they expect the public to foot the bill for the outcome of their demands.

Marine Shoreline Design Guidelines -WDFW

For you wonks of regulations, here’s your bedtime reading…

The final version of the state’s Marine Shoreline Design Guidelines prepared for the Aquatic Habitat Guidelines Program. “The Marine Shoreline Design Guidelines (MSDG) were developed to provide a comprehensive framework for site assessment and alternatives analysis to determine the need for shore protection and identify the technique that best suits the conditions at a given site.”

59MB so it’s a big download.

http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/01583/wdfw01583.pdf

Are you opposed to fracking? Then you might just be a terrorist – Guardian

I usually avoid stories like this, but the Guardian is one of the most independent news dailies on the planet. They broke the Snowden NSA story.The dirty truth about the NSA spying, is that in conjunction with corporate alliances with government, we are now seeing a new wave of propaganda and government eavesdropping created to paint environmental protestors as ‘terrorists”. This article by the Guardian is one of the first I’ve seen that is showing the actual linkage between the actors behind this. From Canada, to the UK and the US, this is not an isolated incident, but appears to be a newly emerging attack on peaceful protestors doing their best to slow the energy companies that are dominating politics on a global scale. To any of you protesting, my advice to you is to not communicate via electronic form without using encryption. The article also shows that they have targeted Occupy protestors  in this dragnet on behalf of large banks.

It’s time we all make a point with our elected officials, face to face, that this behavior is unacceptable in a democracy, and that we want them to work to stop it.  Why does it affect us here on the Peninsula? Because anyone that is acting in a role of environmentalist, may already be a target of this data gathering. It’s why the issue of metadata collection, as opposed to the actual call contents, is so crucial to stop. The assumptions and erroneous correlations that can be painted of a person, out of context, by having this data is what they want to be able to do. It can much more effectively silence or discredit a person than the actual contents of the call, text or email.

From North America to Europe, the ‘national security’ apparatus is being bought off by Big Oil to rout peaceful activism

Over the last year, a mass of shocking evidence has emerged on the close ties between Western government spy agencies and giant energy companies, and their mutual interests in criminalising anti-fracking activists

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/jan/21/fracking-activism-protest-terrorist-oil-corporate-spies

Environmental Lobby Day is no more…

Washington Environmental Council (WEC), who took over the remains of People For Puget Sound after it’s collapse  a few years ago, continued the long running and highly successful Environmental Lobby Day in Olympia. No longer.  WEC has determined that the event needs to die to continue to live. So they are running a new program this year, called 60 Days/60 Ways Action Plan. Here’s how they describe it:

Get Involved! 60 Days/60 Ways Action Plan
This legislative session we’re trying something new and exciting. We’re going to be interacting with legislators throughout the entire session. We have 60 days and 60 ways to help. What does this mean for you? We know you’re busy and time is limited, so whether it’s volunteering one evening at a phone bank, sharing a post on social media, or attending your local town-hall meeting, we’re giving legislators 60 days and you 60 ways to get involved.

Doorbell Days
Every Priority campaign will have at least one doorbell day during this legislative session. These days will entail passing out campaign information to targeted voters in the legislators’ own backyards.

Town Halls
Organized by your local legislators, we have two goals: to pack the room with constituents, and get at least one activist to the microphones to ask a question on each Priority.

Local Party Meetings
This includes attending legislators’ party meetings (both Democrat and Republican) and asking to put our issues on the agenda when appropriate.

Constituent Meetings
Every week during the legislative session we will have one weekly grasstop constituent meeting with a targeted legislator at their office in Olympia. The meetings will be a chance to talk about each Priority.

Phonebanks
Most phonebanks will be run out of offices in Seattle, but option may be available to call at home. Phonebanks will call voters in targeted areas to educate the public and legislators on our Priority campaigns.

Literature Drops
Each Priority will have at least one ‘drop’ day in Olympia. A local team of volunteers will canvas the campus with literature or some related item, infographic, or educational piece that will be distributed to all legislators.

Social Media Shares – Facebook/Twitter
Campaigns will develop weekly Facebook and Twitter feeds that will be posted and sent to share. They will include pictures, graphics, interesting facts, or links to action alerts.

You can sign up if interested, here: http://environmentalpriorities.org/

Last year, over 300 people attended Environmental Lobby Day, spending time learning about issues, meeting with their State Senators and Representatives.  I’m hoping that the folks at WEC/P4PS will make sure they have their metrics for the success of this new idea dialed in. I always had a lot of good feedback from people who came to the Lobby Day, and it introduced people to their elected officials, as well as to their power in calling for change. Losing the momentum of Environmental Lobby Day to push out to a indistinct cloud of people who you hope will actually take actions over a much longer period of time is fraught with possible problems. Hoping that we see some real successes with this tactic.

Along those lines, as posted here elsewhere, Representative Kevin Van De Wege is going to be holding a public meeting in Port Townsend to discuss his involvement with the Toxic Coalition leader Laurie Valerino at the PT Community Center. See the other post here for details.

Scientific Study Shows Effects of Geoduck Farming on Beaches

In 2007, the Washington Legislature, at the prompting of environmental organizations such as People For Puget Sound, and the shellfish industry, funded a long term study of the effects on geoduck aquaculture on beaches. This highly politicized issue, due to the expansion of  long term geoduck farming on ever increasing locations in the South Sound in particular, was viewed as the best way to resolve the bitter disputes over the industry. Some environmentalists were hoping this would be a ‘smoking gun’ of the issues that the industry is having, while the industry assumed it would vindicate them. It appears that the results do not do either, but do point to concerns that need to be researched over a much longer period in time, and about the trade offs in expanding this industry while attempting to save eelgrass beds for salmon habitat. This is the first real long term study ever attempted here in Puget Sound. Fifteen scientists took part in the study over a six year period.

The short conclusion to the data was that it appeared that there was no immediate concern that geoduck farming is distinctly doing long term negative affects on the ecosystem. Concerns were raised over possible effects that were longer than the scope of this project, and recommendations for further research on these were stated.

There were six priorities to investigate, as mandated by the Legislature:

1. the effects of structures commonly used in the aquaculture industry to protect juvenile geoducks from predation;

2. the effects of commercial harvesting of geoducks from intertidal geoduck beds, focusing on current prevalent harvesting techniques, including a review of the recovery rates for benthic communities after harvest;

3. the extent to which geoducks in standard aquaculture tracts alter the ecological characteristics of overlying waters while the tracts are submerged, including impacts on species diversity and the abundance of other organisms;

4. baseline information regarding naturally existing parasites and diseases in wild and cultured geoducks, including whether and to what extent commercial intertidal geoduck aquaculture practices impact the baseline;

5. genetic interactions between cultured and wild geoducks, including measurement of differences between cultured and wild geoducks in term of genetics and reproductive status; and

6. the impact of the use of sterile triploid geoducks and whether triploid animals diminish the genetic interactions between wild and cultured geoducks.

Conclusions of the study indicated that the farms do impact eelgrass while the farms are in place, but that the grass recovers when they are removed.  But more research on the effects is needed they added. 

Effects of harvest on the benthic layer showed little negative impact, but there are a variety of other issues around this topic that need further study, such as spatial and temporal cumulative effects, the report added.

Effects of Nitrogen and Phosphorus accumulation was ‘mixed’ but did not show any kind of damning evidence that would be cause for immediate action. It appears that the beds do lead to a small increase in both these elements.

Disease issues included finding of several previously unreported parasites in geoducks. However, this data only creates a baseline for future studies. There was no conclusion as to the long term negative effects and whether the farms are contributing in any signficant way to the parasites presence.

Issues related to destruction of eelgrass beds showed that the long term effects seemed minimal, but the short term effects were significant. This raises the issue, given the efforts to recover and protect eelgrass beds, that there is a trade off on a yearly basis between salmon habitat and geoduck planting. There is no conclusion as to how significant this is. More research is needed on this topic, the report stated.

More research was recommended on cumulative effects longer time frames, water column effects, disease identification tools and prevalence in farmed populations, contribution of issues of reproductive effects on natural populations, and genetic effects on native stocks.

The entire report can be viewed at:

http://wsg.washington.edu/research/geoduck/

Peninsula salmon projects get $4.5 million – PDN

Lots of good projects that are going to give jobs to folks here on the Peninsula, and help restore salmon habitat. The work is far from being completed, but it’s good to see these projects and land purchases get funded. Tying this together with the work described by Earth Economics over the weekend on this site, it’s worth it to note that there is value in these ecosystem renewal projects. Slowing the rivers by putting in log jams, for example, do not just provide scientifically proven habitat for salmon (especially young salmon migrating downstream), but they also aide in flood protection among other benefits. Flood plain protection is a value that lowers the cost to repairing damage from floods over multiple decades.

The state has awarded $4.5 million in grants for new salmon restoration projects on the North Olympic Peninsula. ….

Rob Ollikainen reports.

There’s quite a bit more to the story at:

http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/article/20131208/NEWS/312089997/peninsula-salmon-projects-get-45-million

 

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Earth Economics – A new way of valuing ecosystems

David Batker of Earth Economics

David Batker of Earth Economics presents their analysis of Clallam County ecosystems.

The Quarterly meeting of the Strait Environmental Recovery Network (ERN) met on Friday in Port Angeles. The ERN is chartered by the Puget Sound Partnership to get organizations together to prioritize work on recovery projects along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This month, we had David Batker, chief economist and Executive Director, of Earth Economics report on their work done for Clallam County. EE created a report called “Policy Implications of the Economic Benefits of Feeder Bluffs and 12 other Ecosystems” as part of the SMP. Sound boring? Think again…

EE has formed some new models to help understand the economic benefits of these ecosystems and their recovery. This is really revolutionary analysis. Constantly, opposition to environmental programs  rail about how fixing the environment is “too expensive” and “costs jobs”. This analysis turns that on it’s head. It makes it very hard to argue that it isn’t the *right thing* to fix the environment, from a purely economic perspective.

EE has done work around the world, and this is really ground breaking stuff. You can find more about them at http://www.eartheconomics.org.

The entire talk can be downloaded or listened to at:

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