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Geologists Warned of Washington State Mudslides for Decades

Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes | about 6 months ago

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Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "The Seattle Times reports that since the 1950s, geological reports on the hill that buckled last weekend killing at least 17 residents in Snohomish County in Washington State have included pessimistic analyses and the occasional dire prediction. But no language seems more prescient than what appears in a 1999 report filed warning of “the potential for a large catastrophic failure.” Daniel Miller, a geomorphologist, documented the hill’s landslide conditions in a report written in 1997 for the Washington Department of Ecology and the Tulalip Tribes. Miller knows the hill’s history, having collected reports and memos from the 1950s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s and has a half-dozen manila folders stuffed with maps, slides, models and drawings, all telling the story of an unstable hillside that has defied efforts to shore it up. That’s why he could not believe what he saw in 2006, when he returned to the hill within weeks of a landslide that crashed into and plugged the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, creating a new channel that threatened homes on a street called Steelhead Drive. Instead of seeing homes being vacated, he saw carpenters building new ones. “Frankly, I was shocked that the county permitted any building across from the river,” says Miller. “We’ve known that it’s been failing. It’s not unknown that this hazard exists.”

The hill that collapsed is referred to by geologists with different names, including Hazel Landslide and Steelhead Haven Landslide, a reference to the hillside’s constant movement. After the hill gave away in 1949, in '51, in '67, in '88, in 2006, residents referred to it simply as “Slide Hill.” “People knew that this was a landslide-prone area,” says John Pennington. Geomorphologist Tracy Drury said there were discussions over the years about whether to buy out the property owners in the area, but those talks never developed into serious proposals. "“I think we did the best that we could under the constraints that nobody wanted to sell their property and move.""

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