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Mudslide victims’ families sue

Lawsuit claims disaster was not natural event

Hal Bernton Seattle Times

Ten families who lost relatives in the mudslide in Oso, Washington, in March have sued Snohomish County, the state and a forest landowner, alleging that the disaster was not natural but the result of a series of “actions and inactions” by those parties.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in King County Superior Court and seeks an unspecified amount of damages.

The March 22 mudslide in Snohomish County resulted from a slope failure that pushed across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River into the Steelhead Haven development, killing 43 people.

This lawsuit was brought on behalf of the 10 families and their 14 deceased relatives. State law allows the filing of such lawsuits in an adjacent county, “and we chose to exercise that option,” said Corrie Yackulic, the Seattle attorney who filed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that the Hazel Landslide formation that cut loose in March had been studied extensively and the risks it posed were well understood by local and state government, as well as Grandy Lake Forest Associates, which owned a 7.5-acre parcel that was logged in 2004 above the slope.

Important information about the risks was never shared with homeowners, the lawsuit alleges.

The area slid in 1967, and the lawsuit cites the comments of Gerald Thorsen, a state Department of Natural Resources geologist who visited the landslide zone two years later.

He cautioned that “this slide has shown that major construction below any of the old scarps should be done with extreme caution.”

Yet the state and county took no “extreme caution” in allowing development below the slide area, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also alleges that, after a 2006 landslide in the area, neither the county or state “informed, educated or warned residents of Steelhead Haven or others at risk about the elevated landslide hazards” resulting from that slope failure.

Representatives of Snohomish County and the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which approved the 2007 harvest by Grandy, could not be reached for comment.

Ken Osborn, manager of Grandy Lake, said Monday that “I think we did things by the book, and our hearts go out to the victims.”

Osborn declined to comment further.

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