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State used outdated data to allow logging on slope – Seattle Times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