State allowed logging on plateau above slope

 

Associated Press photo State allowed logging on plateau above slopeThis aerial photo, taken after Saturday’s landslide, shows part of the plateau that has been logged over the decades. Right above where the hill fell away is a 7½-acre patch, shaped like a triangle, that was clear-cut about nine years ago.

Seattle Times photo. State allowed logging on plateau above slope
This aerial photo, taken after Saturday’s landslide, shows part of the plateau that has been logged over the decades. Right above where the hill fell away is a 7½-acre patch, shaped like a triangle, that was clear-cut about nine years ago.

In recent decades the state allowed logging — with restrictions — on the plateau above the Snohomish County hillside that collapsed in last weekend’s deadly mudslide.

By Mike Baker, Ken Armstrong and Hal Bernton

Seattle Times staff reporters

The plateau above the soggy hillside that gave way Saturday has been logged for almost a century, with hundreds of acres of softwoods cut and hauled away, according to state records.

But in recent decades, as the slope has become more unstable, scientists have increasingly challenged the timber harvests, with some even warning of possible calamity.

The state has continued to allow logging on the plateau, although it has imposed restrictions at least twice since the 1980s. The remnant of one clear-cut operation is visible in aerial photographs of Saturday’s monstrous mudslide. A triangle — 7½ acres, the shape of a pie slice — can be seen atop the destruction, its tip just cutting into where the hill collapsed.

Multiple factors can contribute to a slide.

With the hill that caved in over the weekend, geologists have pointed to the Stillaguamish River’s erosion of the hill’s base, or toe.

But logging can also play a role in instigating or intensifying a slide, by increasing the amount of water seeping into an unstable zone, according to an analysis of the watershed submitted to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

In May 1988, when a private landowner, Summit Timber, received approval to begin logging above the slope, scientists raised alarms about the removal of trees that intercept or absorb so much water, according to documents obtained by The Seattle Times.

Paul Kennard, a geologist for the Tulalip Tribes, warned regulators that harvesting holds “the potential for a massive and catastrophic failure of the entire hillslope.”

Others echoed his concerns. Noel Wolff, a hydrologist who worked for the state, wrote that “Timber harvesting could possibly cause what is likely an inevitable event to occur sooner.” And Pat Stevenson, an environmental biologist for the Stillaguamish Tribe, cited “the potential for massive failure,” similar to a slide that occurred in 1967.

The agency that issued the permit — the DNR — responded to the concerns by assembling a team of geologists and hydrologists to study the harvest’s potential impact on landslides.

Lee Benda, a geologist with the University of Washington, wrote a report that said harvesting can increase soil water “on the order of 20 to 35 percent” — with that impact lasting 16 to 27 years, until new trees matured. Benda looked at past slides on the hill and found they occurred within five to 10 years of harvests.

In August 1988, the DNR issued a stop-work order, putting Summit Timber’s logging operation on temporary hold.

“1988 was maybe the first time that we were getting serious as to what you should or should not do in terms of logging and road construction around those things,” said Matt Brunengo, at that time a DNR geologist.

GRAPHIC BY THE SEATTLE TIMES;PHOTO BY TED S. WARREN / APUse an interactive tool to look at the effects of the mudslide.

GRAPHIC BY THE SEATTLE TIMES;
PHOTO BY TED S. WARREN / AP
Use an interactive tool to look at the effects of the mudslide.

A week after the stop-work order, a Summit representative wrote DNR, saying $750,000 to $1 million worth of timber was at stake. He listed alternative steps that could be taken to lessen the risks of a slide — for example, having the state relocate the channel of the Stillaguamish River that was cutting into the hill’s base.

“I can only conclude that the real issue here is not slides and water quality, but timber cutting,” he wrote.

Although records indicate that at least 300 acres were harvested on the plateau in the late 1980s, the state moved to prevent Summit Timber from clear-cutting 48 acres considered most likely to discharge water down the slope.

Mapping out the areas most likely to feed water into unstable terrain is “fraught with uncertainty,” wrote one geologist who studied this landslide zone in the 1990s.

Summit Timber was a family-logging business led by Gary Jones, who grew up in nearby Darrington. Jones believed the acreage atop the hill was second-growth forest, initially logged in the 1920s or 1930s. He said the company eventually backed away from its request to log the 48 acres, given the hill’s history.

“It was a little bit risky,” Jones told The Seattle Times. “We decided not to do it.”

Jones said he was always cautious when working around the river, especially considering he was an avid fly fisherman fond of the Stillaguamish.

Kennard, who now works as a geomorphologist at the National Park Service, said the 1988 application was contentious because the state rarely objected to proposed harvests. Getting the DNR to limit the cut’s scope was no small task, he said.

“That was considered kind of a big victory,” Kennard said.

Concerns about landslides surfaced again in 2004, when property owner Grandy Lake applied for a permit to clear a 15-acre tract near the plateau’s edge.

The state rejected the application, saying some of the proposed logging fell within a sensitive area that could feed water into the slope. Working in that zone would require years of intensive monitoring of precipitation and groundwater.

Grandy Lake revised its application, halving its proposed harvest to avoid the sensitive zone. The final plan — a clear-cut shaped like a right triangle — had an eastern border that abutted the area.

The state approved Grandy Lake’s application while attaching conditions, including: “All yarding and log-hauling activities will cease at the onset of heavy or steady rain and will not resume until the rain has subsided for at least 24 hours.”

Harvesting in that area was finished by August 2005.

Officials with Grandy Lake did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

In January 2006, a large slide hit, with so much mud crashing into the Stillaguamish that the river was diverted. Where the hill fell away was maybe 600 feet southwest of the clear-cut area.

Saturday’s slide took more of the hill, reaching right up to that triangle.

Grandy Lake has done selective logging on the plateau in more recent years. Following the approval of a 2009 permit that also included an area abutting the sensitive zone, the company reported to the state that it removed 20 percent of the area’s trees. It returned in 2011 and got approval to take 15 percent more.

Staff reporter Justin Mayo contributed to this report. Mike Baker: mbaker@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2729; Ken Armstrong: karmstrong@seattletimes.com or 206-464-3730

Slide pushes Amtrak train off tracks in Everett

No injuries reported when Empire Builder derails in Everett

By Sharon Salyer, The Herald

Doug Ramsay / For the HeraldBurlington Northern Santa Fe and Amtrak officials examine the last two coaches of the Chicago to Seattle Empire Builder that derailed just north of Howarth Park in Everett on Sunday morning. There were no injuries in the derailment and passengers from the derailed cars were moved to the front cars as the train continued to Seattle with the two derailed cars being left behind.

Doug Ramsay / For the Herald
Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Amtrak officials examine the last two coaches of the Chicago to Seattle Empire Builder that derailed just north of Howarth Park in Everett on Sunday morning. There were no injuries in the derailment and passengers from the derailed cars were moved to the front cars as the train continued to Seattle with the two derailed cars being left behind.

An Amtrak train traveling from Chicago to Seattle was hit by a mudslide near Howarth Park in Everett on Sunday morning, derailing the last three passengers cars, which tilted but remained upright.

No injuries were reported among the 86 passengers and 11 crew members, an Amtrak spokesman said.

Three rail cars remained blocking the tracks. The rest of the train was decoupled and continued on to Mukilteo to discharge passengers, Rick Robinson, fire marshal for the Everett Fire Department. Passengers were bused to Seattle.

Sound Transit announced Sunday on its website that Sounder service was cancelled for Monday and Tuesday. Amtrak also said its train service would be affected between Vancouver, B.C., and Portland, Ore., until after Tuesday, with passengers being taken by bus.

After earlier slides this winter passenger trains have been barred from the tracks for 48 hours after a slide.

The tracks between Seattle and Everett have been plagued with slides in recent months.

“We’ve had more than 200 slides this past winter and spring,” said Gus Melonas, spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the tracks.

The landslide occurred about 8:30 a.m., affecting two coach cars and the train’s dining car.

The slide was triggered about 100 feet up a 200-foot cliff, depositing a patch of dirt and debris 15 feet deep and 30 feet wide along the tracks a quarter-mile north of Howarth Park, Melonas said.

The force of the slide was enough to “tip the rails over, not the cars, just the rails,” Robinson said.

Two ladder trucks, three engine trucks and two medic units were dispatched to the scene.

About one-quarter mile of track needed to be realigned with the repairs expected to be completed by Monday morning, Melonas said. No estimate of the cost to repair the track was immediately available.

The slide affected the inner line of two main rail lines. However, freight train traffic was not disrupted and two freight trains moved through the area Sunday afternoon, Melonas said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Landslide Takes Slice Out of Whidbey Island in Washington State

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

TED S. WARREN/APWhidbey Island, Washington, landslide that took down at least one home, wiped out a road and put more than 30 homes in danger.

TED S. WARREN/AP
Whidbey Island, Washington, landslide that took down at least one home, wiped out a road and put more than 30 homes in danger.

But for a dead flashlight battery, Bret Holmes would be buried in a pile of dirt at the base of a newly formed cliff.

Staying in the Whidbey Island home of his recently deceased father and stepmother while he readied it for sale, Holmes was awakened at about 4 a.m. on Thursday March 28 by an earthquake-like rumbling sound, he told The Seattle Times. He ventured outside with a flashlight in the pre-dawn hours and had just time to note the absence of about 20 trees, some of them 200 feet tall, before his flashlight battery died. He went inside for a new flashlight and came back to find that “where I had been standing was no longer there,” he told the newspaper. The landslide, 400 to 500 yards wide and descending 600 to 700 yards down toward the water, ate 75 feet of the backyard, which now ends in a sheer drop.

No one was injured or killed when a 1,000-foot-long piece of coastline slid off the island’s west flank in the community of Ledgewood and into Puget Sound. But it brought one home down with it, pushed another one 200 feet offshore and endangered at least 17 others on top of the cliff. It also destroyed 300 or 400 feet of the road that had led to the shoreline, Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Hartin told The Seattle Times. Another 16 homes were evacuated below the cliff by boat, since they are no longer accessible by road, Hartin told the Associated Press.

Now a dozen or more evacuees are uncertain of when they can return, since it could be weeks before the ground stops moving, said Terry Swanson, a lecturer for the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, to The Seattle Times.

Swanson said that far from being due to climate change or a strong winter, the slide stems from a geological issue dating back 15,000 to 18,000 years, when the Vashon glacier started to advance and retreat. That action left a layer of rock the consistency of ground-up concrete, another of sand and a third of clay. Years of water accumulation eventually made it soft, and today landslides are common along the 35-mile-long, 60,000-population island, he explained.

Whidbey Island—or Tscha-kole-chy, by one American Indian name—was originally the home of the Chehalis, Nisqually, Duwamish, Snoqualmie and Snohomish tribes, among others, according to Historylink.org, a website that focuses on Washington State history.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/03/29/landslide-takes-slice-out-whidbey-island-washington-state-148436