12-member Oso mudslide commission announced

EVERETT — It is an enormous task with a tight timeline for such a massive disaster.

State and county leaders on Friday announced the make-up of an independent commission that will examine the emergency response to the March 22 Oso mudslide that killed 43 people, destroyed dozens of homes and caused millions of dollars in damage.

The panel also will study land-use planning in slide-prone areas.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he hopes the final report, due Dec. 15, “will help us become a safer, more resilient state.”

One thing the commission will not do is point fingers of blame, the governor said.

That, he said, is the role of the courts, which are expected to sort through multiple lawsuits to determine questions of accountability.

The governor was joined by Snohomish County Executive John Lovick. The jointly appointed commission has 12 members and includes scientists, emergency responders and land-use experts.

Meetings will be public and the group subject to the state’s public records laws. The commission already has its own web page for sharing information.

The dates and times of meetings have not been set but will centered in Snohomish County, officials said Friday.

The commission will be led by Kathy Lombardo, who has worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and CH2M Hill. Work will be coordinated by the William D. Ruckelshaus Center, a joint public policy institute based at the University of Washington and Washington State University.

Lombardo, a geologist, has been a regional manager of a major engineering firm and has worked in rural areas of Africa.

“I can definitely kick dirt,” she said. “I’m not just an office person.”

She plans to visit the mudslide area next week before leading commission members there in August.

The 12 members of the committee include:

David Montgomery, director of geomorphology at the University of Washington and an expert on how landscapes are shaped. He is among the team of scientists who have been studying the slide and has written popular books about dirt and fish.

Wendy Gerstel, a licensed hydrogeologist.

Bill Trimm, former development director at the city of Mill Creek.

Diane Sugimura, director of development for the city of Seattle.

Greg Garcia, former Pasco fire chief.

Bremerton Police Chief Steve Strachan

Lee Shipman, emergency management director for the Shoalwater Bay Tribe.

Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau.

Renee Radcliff Sinclair, a former Snohomish County planning commissioner and former state representative.

Paul Chiles, former chairman of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.

JoAnn Biggs, president of the Washington State Emergency Management Association.

John Erickson, former director of emergency preparedness at the state Department of Health.

The press conference Friday drew the interest of Darrington grocery store co-owner Kevin Ashe, who also serves on the town council.

Ashe said he has been thankful for all the help his town has received from local, state and federal agencies. At the same time, he hopes tough questions will be asked about the first few days of the response. Many people in the Stillaguamish Valley felt the early ground response was too slow after more than a dozen helicopter rescues in the first few hours after the mudslide, he said.

Loggers and other locals had the knowledge and skills to help early on, he said.

“I want to be sure the basic concerns of just the average guy digging are addressed,” he said.

Ideally, Ashe said, the commission would have included one of the volunteers who worked long hours in the debris fields as a sign of respect for what the folks did and accomplished.

Now, Ashe said, he just wants to make sure their voices are heard. Their advice could help in a future disaster, like putting locals to work in the field alongside emergency responders faster, he said.

The landslide sent 10 million cubic yards of dirt and debris a mile from the top of the 600-foot-tall hillside that collapsed. It swallowed up the Steelhead Haven neighborhood and covered most of a mile along Highway 530.

A scientific report issued Tuesday pointed to no single factor as being responsible for the slide, which originated in a previous landslide on the same slope in 2006.

The commission will be working under a $150,000 budget with the state picking up two-thirds of the cost and Snohomish County the rest.

State Sen. Kirk Pearson, whose legislative district includes the mudslide area, expects the report to be reviewed by fellow lawmakers in 2015. After four months of recovery work, he said that the timing is right to begin asking more far-reaching questions about what lessons can be learned.

“I think they are putting together some good minds,” he said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

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