Aerial view of the Stillguamish River and SR 530 after the March 22, 2014 landslide
The Oso landslide on March 22 resulted in the damming of the Stillaguamish River in Snohomish County. Mud covering the area, including SR 530, is a mile wide. (Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation)

Today is the fifth anniver­sary of the dev­as­tat­ing Oso mud­slide, which took the lives of forty-three peo­ple and destroyed forty-nine structures.

Aerial view of the Stillguamish River and SR 530 after the March 22, 2014 landslide
The Oso land­slide on March 22 result­ed in the damming of the Stil­laguamish Riv­er in Sno­homish Coun­ty. Mud cov­er­ing the area, includ­ing SR 530, is a mile wide. (Pho­to: Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Transportation)

In hon­or of those who per­ished that trag­ic day and on behalf of the more than sev­en mil­lion Wash­ing­to­ni­ans liv­ing with the risk of geo­log­ic haz­ards like land­slides, tsunamis, earth­quakes, and lahars, NPI is renew­ing its call for the Leg­is­la­ture to appro­pri­ate funds so these haz­ards can be researched and bet­ter under­stood by our Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources (DNR).

Wash­ing­ton is unques­tion­ably a beau­ti­ful and majes­tic place, but it’s also a dan­ger­ous place. This region we love is part of the very active Pacif­ic Ring of Fire.

Earth­quakes, tsunamis, lahars, and slides have shaped the his­to­ry of our region. All are haz­ards that we can expect to strike again, but we have not made study­ing and prepar­ing for them a true pri­or­i­ty. Gov­er­nor Inslee’s Resilient Wash­ing­ton sub­cab­i­net was and is a great idea, but we need to be doing more… a lot more.

It’s time for the Leg­is­la­ture to step up.

Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands Hillary Franz and the Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources have devel­oped three pro­pos­als that would pro­vide us with bad­ly need­ed data about geo­log­ic haz­ards, so we can make bet­ter deci­sions about our next steps. Col­lec­tive­ly, these pro­pos­als would cost only a few mil­lion dollars.

Yet only one was includ­ed in Gov­er­nor Inslee’s pro­posed bud­gets for the upcom­ing bien­ni­um… and even then, the full amount request­ed was­n’t pro­vid­ed. We call on the House and Sen­ate to fund each of these pro­pos­als in their entirety.

The three bud­get requests are as follows:

  • FY 2019–2021 cap­i­tal bud­get request: $5 mil­lion for school seis­mic safe­ty (funds 3.3 FTEs to con­duct com­pre­hen­sive seis­mic and engi­neer­ing assess­ments on approx­i­mate­ly four hun­dred school build­ings in areas of Wash­ing­ton at high risk of earth­quake damage)
  • FY 2019–2021 oper­at­ing bud­get request: $2.9 mil­lion for glacial land­slide research (funds a detailed study of the Stil­laguamish Val­ley to advance the under­stand­ing of how glacial geol­o­gy influ­ences the land­slides in this area and oth­er areas of Wash­ing­ton with sim­i­lar geology)
  • FY 2019–2021 oper­at­ing bud­get request: $234,000 for post-wild­fire land­slide teams (funds over­time and trav­el costs for sci­en­tists to assem­ble, lead, and direct a team to inspect areas fol­low­ing wild­fires for post-fire envi­ron­men­tal haz­ards such as landslides)

Addi­tion­al­ly, DNR has pro­posed invest­ing $632,000 in the next bien­ni­um and $292,000 per year after that to explore renew­able ener­gy sources to pro­mote rur­al economies. Fund­ing would allow DNR to map high and low tem­per­a­ture geot­her­mal resources and drill wells to test poten­tial geot­her­mal sites. While this request does not per­tain to geo­log­ic haz­ards, we believe it should be fund­ed too.

Fund­ing these essen­tial pro­pos­als in full is one of NPI’s top leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties for this ses­sion. I have repeat­ed­ly tes­ti­fied before the House Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee and the Sen­ate Ways & Means Com­mit­tee in sup­port of increased fund­ing for geo­log­ic haz­ards research, and I plan to do so again on NPI’s behalf.

We urge Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans in the Leg­is­la­ture to join forces in sup­port of fund­ing geo­log­ic haz­ards research. We can’t keep putting this off.

Our state is grow­ing; more peo­ple con­tin­ue to move here and start busi­ness­es here. We all deserve a gov­ern­ment that is work­ing to under­stand the risks of the haz­ards around us and pre­pare for the worst.

We’ve seen what earth­quakes, tsunamis, slides, and lahars can do.

The Nisqually quake in 2001 was a wake-up call. So was the Oso slide five years ago. No more delay­ing; it’s time to act! We’re a wealthy state.

We have the resources. Let’s appro­pri­ate the mon­ey and empow­er DNR to gath­er the data that we need to make sound deci­sions for our future.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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