Wash. DNR Postpones Clear-Cuts It Approved Near Oso Landslide

Source: KUOW

Washington state officials have postponed selling 250 acres of timber on steep slopes near the town of Oso.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources had scheduled the 188-acre “Riley Rotor” timber sale and the 62-acre “Home Repairs” timber sale for auction this Wednesday, a month and a day after the March 22 landslide that killed at least 39 people in Oso.

The Riley Rotor site is on state land about five miles southwest of the deadly Oso slide. Much of the site is so steep that the DNR had proposed logging it with helicopters.

Helicopter logging would allow the state to sell an estimated $1.3 million worth of timber from the site without building new logging roads through the steep landscapes of the Stillaguamish River basin. Cutting roads into the hillsides could worsen the risk of landslides, according to the DNR.

In January, the Washington Forest Law Center urged the DNR to leave parts of the area uncut to further reduce the landslide risk.

The environmental group said the proposed cut would put up to a dozen homes, as well as salmon streams, below the proposed sale at risk. It also expressed concern about the combined impact of the sale with logging proposed just uphill, on land owned by Weyerhaeuser.

The DNR replied that maps showing a historic landslide on the site — which would indicate the site’s vulnerability to more sliding — proved to be incorrect once geologists, biologists and foresters from the agency and from the Tulalip Tribes walked the site in person.

“This ‘landslide feature’ was determined to be non-existent,” DNR assistant regional manager Laurie Bergvall told the Forest Law Center in January.

The agency formally approved the Riley Rotor sale on March 4.

DNR officials dismissed concerns the Forest Law Center raised in late March, after the Oso landslide.

“There are essentially no geologic or lithologic similarities between the site of the Riley Rotor timber sale and the Oso landslide,” DNR geologist John McKenzie wrote on April 14. The two sites “could hardly be more different,” he wrote.

RileyRotorMap
Credit: Washington Forest Law Center

 

The agency’s decision to postpone the Riley Rotor auction surprised the center’s wildlife biologist, Kara Whittaker.

“It was kind of funny because it was just Tuesday, on the 15th, that we got some correspondence from DNR confirming they were going to proceed with the sale,” Whittaker said.

By Friday afternoon, the DNR had reversed itself.

“We’re hoping this reversal is a signal that DNR is committed to changing the way it logs on steep and unstable slopes,” Whittaker said.

“We really did have a thorough review beforehand, but prudence and the changing conditions dictated the decision to postpone until further review,” said Kyle Blum, a deputy supervisor with the Department of Natural Resources.

Blum said the changing conditions included Oso’s near-record rainfall in March as well as the Oso landslide.

Blum said the DNR is also reviewing other timber sales in the Oso area to make sure none of them put public safety at risk.

On Wednesday, the agency postponed the auction of its Home Repairs timber sale in Skagit County, about 17 miles northwest of the Oso slide. That sale of an estimated $770,000 worth of timber would require building a mile and a half of logging road on Cultus Mountain above Nookachamps Creek, which supports six species of salmon.

“Most of the sale area is located on a deep-seated landslide,” according to DNR documents.

This was first reported for KUOW.

President Obama To Visit Oso Landslide Site

File photo of cleanup at the site of the Oso landslide site on April 3, 2014.Washington National Guard

File photo of cleanup at the site of the Oso landslide site on April 3, 2014.
Washington National Guard

 

By Chris Lehman, NW News Network

President Barack Obama is expected to visit the site of the deadly landslide in Snohomish County, Wash., later this month.

The scheduled April 22 visit would be exactly one month after the disaster struck. It’s a rare visit to the region for the President, not counting political fundraisers.

Presidents often travel to the sites of natural disasters to comfort victims and encourage first responders. It’s a tradition that dates back to at least the 1960s. At that time, Lyndon Johnson famously toured the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy in Louisiana. Historians called that trip to the swing state both a humanitarian and a political gesture.

Obama declared the Oso landslide a federal disaster area. But until now, his only public comments came during his trip in Europe last month.

“I would just ask all Americans to send their thoughts and prayers to Washington state and the community of Oso and the family and friends of those who continue to be missing,” President Obama said on March 25.

The Washington Governor’s office says the President will visit families and recovery workers during his visit to the site of the landslide.

Obama last visited Washington state last November. He attended two closed-door fundraisers for Congressional candidates. He also visited the Northwest during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Pollution Is Not The Top Priority At Oso Landslide Site, But It Is A Concern

Propane tanks floated to the surface of the massive landslide debris field that engulfed 42 homes near Oso, Washington. | credit: Ashley Ahearn

Propane tanks floated to the surface of the massive landslide debris field that engulfed 42 homes near Oso, Washington. | credit: Ashley Ahearn

 

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

OSO, Wash. — An orange backhoe beeps in the background as cleanup workers and search dogs slog through the gray-blue clay of the Oso landslide zone. In the distance a muddy American flag waves over hummocks of exposed roots, broken trees and the remnants of the 42 homes that used to line this stretch of highway in the Cascade Mountains northeast of Seattle.

The death toll stands at 30 with 13 people still missing. Dozens of homes were destroyed.

As the search-and-rescue-effort shifts gears into cleanup mode, officials are beginning to assess potential environmental and public health risks.

“Personnel, even canines, when they come off the site they’re going to get decontaminated,” said Maj. William Pola with the Army National Guard. Behind him workers pressure wash massive trucks with hot water and mild detergent as they leave the landslide zone.

Other responders somberly wash off their boots nearby. It’s a standard precautionary measure, said Dick Walker, a spills expert with the Washington State Department of Ecology.

“This really is just mud,” Walker said. “There’s really nothing terribly bad in here. The chemical hazards are very, very small.”

But there is a lot of mud here – enough to fill Safeco Field three times.

The mud engulfed dozens homes. Propane tanks floated to the surface of the liquid debris field. Septic tanks, cars and household chemicals remain buried.

“But really that’s very minimal with the volume of soil that has been dumped on that and spread around and some of this is extremely deep and some of that material we may never recover,” Walker said.

Soccer ball

Along a trail by the Stillaguamish River a child’s soccer ball sits in the rain.

When the slide hit, families were going about their usual Saturday mornings -– kids playing in the woods, parents mowing lawns.

Most of the dead have now been removed, though there are still people missing.

“We have a potential exposure for blood and body fluids but whatever we had was diluted in over a million cubic yards of dirt so the risk to the individual rescuer going in is really quite small,” said Dr. Richard Bradley, a physician with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on a recent visit to the disaster zone.

Rescue workers are more likely to injure themselves clambering around the debris field, he added, than through exposure to any hazardous materials or organic material.

The mud tumbled 600 feet down the mountainside and blocked the Stillaguamish River. Then it continued south, burying the neighborhood on the other side.

“It pushed everything away from the river,” Walker explained. “So most of the hazardous waste items are back away from the water’s edge, vehicles, too and because of the slope of the land we don’t believe that anything’s going to get into the river from the chemical perspective.”

Walker added that Ecology has taken some water samples downstream from the slide zone and has not found evidence of chemical contamination. More sampling will be done in the coming months.

Slide and Stillaguamish

The river looks different. Springtime in the Northwest means blue-green rivers, frothing with snowmelt. Right now the Stillaguamish is a morose gray, littered with broken trees.

All that muck and debris will harm the salmon and steelhead that spawn in this stretch of river. But fish experts says it’s too soon to say how much those populations will suffer.

For now, the focus remains on the overwhelming loss of human life along this ravaged stretch of the Stillaguamish.

Oso Landslide Could Be Deadliest Disaster In Washington State History

Rescue workers are combing the site of a massive landslide near Oso, Wash. Maj. Tawny Dotson Washington National Guard

Rescue workers are combing the site of a massive landslide near Oso, Wash.
Maj. Tawny Dotson Washington National Guard

By Austin Jenkins March 27, 2014

Nwnewsnetwork.org

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has acknowledged the Oso landslide could be the deadliest natural disaster in state history.

So far 25 people have been confirmed killed and as many as 90 remain missing. If the ultimate death toll reaches 100 that would eclipse even the 1910 Stevens Pass avalanche that hit two trains.

“We do know this could end up being the largest mass loss of Washingtonians, but whether it is or is not it does not change on how we are approaching this,” said the governor after a bill signing ceremony at the Capitol in Olympia.

Inslee says that approach is to mount a full scale rescue effort. He adds that any one loss is a tragedy.

Oso landslide death toll now stands at 14

Snohomish County Public Works Director Steve Thompson, left, explains the relative stability of terrain at the Oso landslide site on March 24, as Snohomish County Executive John Lovick looks on.— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

Snohomish County Public Works Director Steve Thompson, left, explains the relative stability of terrain at the Oso landslide site on March 24, as Snohomish County Executive John Lovick looks on.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

 

By Kirk Boxleitner, Source: Marysville Globe

ARLINGTON — Snohomish County Executive John Lovick described Monday, March 24, as “a day of progress and sadness,” as six more were confirmed dead as a result of the Oso landslide on Saturday, March 22, bringing the disaster’s total death toll to 14, and reports of missing and unaccounted for persons in the area escalated from 108 at the start of the day to 176 by the time county officials conducted their third and final press conference of the day, outside of the Arlington Police Station.

Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots reiterated that firefighters and law enforcement personnel have been joined in their efforts by search and rescue crews, search dogs and heavy equipment from the state Department of Transportation, the latter to move mud out of the way, and he added some words of appreciation to locally based responders, who have provided insights on whether certain homes were likely to have been occupied at the time of the landslide.

“Crews up there are up against enormous challenges,” Hots said. “The debris fields are like big berms of clay and quicksand. One of the folks out there told me, ‘You know, Chief, sometimes it takes five minutes to walk 40-50 feet and get our equipment over these berms.'”

Hots noted that the challenges of working in, much less walking across, such debris have been further complicated by the presence of septic tank materials, as well as gasoline, oil, propane and other contaminants.

“It’s very tedious and slow-going,” said Hots, who relayed another responder’s experiences with “void spaces,” such as houses, out in the field. “He said it’s very tough to even search those buildings, because they’ve been collapsed and compressed with all that material that’s come down. He best described it as like cement, that’s gone into those void spaces, and it’s very, very difficult to get in there and actually search. One of them even told me, ‘You know, Chief, I sat there for an hour, moving material, and only moved maybe about four buckets of material in about an hour.'”

Hots was disappointed to report that crews found neither any survivors nor any signs of survivors during the day, and Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management Director John Pennington likewise acknowledged how discouraging it must sound to hear that the number of reported missing and unaccounted for had increased by so many in a single day, but Pennington emphasized yet again that those consolidated lists of reports are not entirely synchronized yet, and could include duplicates.

“That number is about individual names reported,” Pennington said. “They’re not individuals that are deceased. They’re not individuals that are injured. They’re not individuals that are missing. They’re 176 reports.”

Pennington described the crews’ “strongly enhanced and coordinated response” as improved over their previous two days, and extended his thanks to Gov. Jay Inslee and President Barack Obama for declaring this situation an emergency on the state and federal levels, thereby facilitating assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“They’ve dispatched us a mobile command vehicle from the Mobile Emergency Response System, otherwise known as MERS,” Pennington said. “That’s going to be dispatched out to Darrington to help them establish communications. At the same time, I’m happy to announce that we’ve established an Emergency Operations Center in Darrington, in conjunction with the town of Darrington and the Department of Emergency Management.”

According to Pennington, the federal government is finalizing the details to send a Type 1 federal search and rescue team, in addition to the Incident Management Assistance Team that’s already arrived from FEMA.

“Today, we were able to secure National Guard assistance, in the form of a 50-person search and extraction team,” Pennington said on March 24. “That team is en route here, and they will assist with our search and rescue efforts as well, with very technical expertise that we believe will be very effective in the days to come. The Northwest Incident Management Team — the local regional team from the Pacific Northwest and the northwest part of Washington state — remains on scene and continues to manage this incident, and for that, we’re eternally grateful.”

Pennington not only repeated his request, that members of the public report the names of missing or unaccounted for people to the Department of Emergency Management Call Center at 425-388-5088 if they have not done so already, but he also asked that they send in photos of those who may be missing or unaccounted for, via email at DEMCallCenter@snoco.org, and include the individuals’ first and last names, as well their distinguishing marks or features.

“There is an awful lot of grieving out there in this community,” Pennington said. “There is an awful lot of unknown. That is completely expected. No information at the Call Center can be given out, and what we’d ask of the media and the public is, especially with shelter operations, and those individuals that are in these very tight-knit, very small communities where neighbors know neighbors, and families know each other very, very well and help out, that we would respect the privacy of those individuals as they begin the extensive grieving process.”

Although Pennington acknowledged that it is increasingly unlikely that any survivors will be found at this point, he nonetheless expects crews to proceed as though they’re conducting rescue rather than recovery operations, until such time as they feel the need to stop.

Snohomish County Public Works Director Steve Thompson clarified that certain crews had been pulled out of the area between approximately noon to 1 p.m. and 2:30-3 p.m., due to concerns that the landslide might still be moving, but assessments by three geologists on site determined that there was no additional risk.

“It just turned out to be some sloughing off the edge of the slide,” Thompson said. “Some trees were falling, but nothing deep, nothing to worry about, so we gave a green light to let the rescue commence.”

“Currently, the search effort is directed where there’s most likely to still be people that may need rescuing,” Hots said, before adding that pockets of vehicles, buildings and other structures are most likely to contain any remaining survivors. “There’s other areas of the scene where it’s not probable that there’s going to be anybody, areas where there were no houses. We’re checking the areas where the two neighborhoods were, and along the road on SR 530, both from the Darrington side and the Oso side.”

While the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River is currently flowing in an orderly fashion as it carves a new channel for itself on the north end of the Oso landslide blockage, the National Weather Service’s Flash Flood Watch remains in effect through Tuesday, March 25, due to the instability of the debris dam and the materials in it, as well as the unpredictability of how the new river channel will cut through it.