May 13, 2014 in City

Washington state board meets on landslide threat

Forest expert urges logging moratorium
By The Spokesman-Review
Associated Press photo

Debbie Durnell, whose husband, Tom, was killed in the mudslide that hit Oso, Wash., on March 22, testifies Monday at a Forest Practices Board hearing in Olympia.
(Full-size photo)

OLYMPIA – Washington needs to identify all potential landslide areas in the state quickly and ban logging near them until it can come up with better rules to avoid fatal mudslides like the one that devastated Oso, an environmental lawyer told the board that sets forest policy.

“Oso was a wake-up call,” Peter Goldman, director of the Washington Forest Law Center, told the state Forest Practices Board on Monday. The state doesn’t even know where all the landslide formations are, he said.

The chairman of the board said such a moratorium may be “theoretically possible” and could come up today in the second day of the board’s special meeting on forest rules and landslides. But even as an emergency rule, it would require hearings and study, Aaron Everett said: “It’s still not instantaneous.”

The 13-member board got a daylong course in geology, hydrology and landslide hazards in Washington, including a briefing on the March 22 slide that killed 41 and left two missing. But experts said they didn’t know yet why the slide behaved the way it did, or why it moved so far that it reached the homes on Steelhead Lane near Oso.

Jonathan Godt of the U.S. Geological Survey said it could take several years, and a couple million dollars, to determine the cause of the Oso slide.

“It’s very difficult to know what’s below the ground’s surface,” he said. “We don’t know what the conditions were before the slide.”

An area on top of the hill was logged in 2005, including some areas that were in a known slide area, but even Goldman shied away from saying that caused the mudslide. “It remains to be seen if logging contributed to the slide,” he said.

State law already prohibits logging too close to a slide area, Goldman said, but the state doesn’t know where all the slide zones are.

To determine that, the board may recommend the Legislature come up with more money for the Department of Natural Resources to expand its use of a type of laser mapping known as LIDAR, and to hire more geologists.

Victims of the Oso slide urged the board to do everything possible to prevent similar tragedies.

“We owe it to every person who died to do everything we can to make sure logging regulations are adequate,” said Debbie Durnell, whose husband, Tom, was killed when the slide covered their home.

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