Blocked Index homeowners hope to share in Oso relief

INDEX — A slowly moving hillside south of Sunset Falls has caused people to abandon earlier efforts and come up with a new plan to reach a neighborhood blocked by debris. Now they hope to piggyback on relief coming for the Oso disaster.

A mudslide blocked a stretch of Mount Index River Road in late December, cutting off access to the homes of about 100 people in the area east of Sunset Falls. The unstable ground has continued to shift.

For months, the private road has been blocked much of the time. People living there have been hiking through shin-deep mud from the base of Sunset Falls. They’re packing in groceries, gas and other necessities.

Along with those and other inconveniences, power outages have occurred for days at a time.

The Snohomish County fire marshal has limited access to several cabins in the area.

The Mount Index Riversites Community Club has struggled to clear the road. The homeowners group has spent more than $50,000 on the effort this year, but debris continue to come down. They’ve have had trouble getting government help for the private road.

Now Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington is urging residents to apply for assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The week before the Oso mudslide hit, Pennington sought an emergency declaration from Snohomish County for Index. He wanted to streamline the permitting process so homeowners could find a safer way to get to their property.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District is considering a proposal that would help Riversites pay for a bridge near Canyon Falls to connect the neighborhood to U.S. 2.

After the Oso disaster hit March 22, Pennington amended the county’s declaration for Index to include both mudslides. The state emergency declaration also lists slides in both Oso and Index.

At the federal level, the president provides assistance for mudslides and ongoing problems resulting from moving ground in his declaration.

Pennington said he believes people affected by the Index mudslide are eligible for federal funding for damages that happened after March 22.

Without Oso, the problems in Index would not have risen to the level of federal assistance, he said. Now that the county is a disaster area, people affected by mudslides could receive the help.

He’s encouraging people to apply with FEMA and let lawyers in Washington, D.C., sort out whether they qualify. Pennington is also encouraging those affected to contact political representatives to ask for support.

Pennington credits people in Index for understanding the mudslide risk and taking action on it.

Elizabeth Hill, a geological and civil engineer from Carnation, has owned a cabin in Index for almost 20 years.

Slides have been happening there for years, she said, but this one is by far the worst.

Hill said she understands the Index neighborhood’s troubles don’t compare with those of Oso. Still, she said, they need help because the hillside continues to move.

“It’s all one big mess,” she said. “Just because this slide is moving slowly, it doesn’t mean it can’t move faster.”

Hill is growing increasingly concerned about neighbors who have no access to emergency services. She also worries about people getting hurt hiking through the slide area every day.

“That’s not safe,” she said. “It’s really bad.”

Riversites has raised another $50,000 for the effort to build a bridge, Hill said. It would be installed just upstream of Canyon Falls, where a previous bridge was located until the 1990s.

The homeowners are considering a type of portable, pre-fabricated truss bridge. This so-called Bailey bridge would be similar to the one installed after the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River collapsed last May. The estimated cost of a bridge near Index is about $450,000.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District is proposing to help the homeowners by paying up to $250,000 for the galvanized steel bridge, if the project is approved. In return, the PUD would use it to enter the area to study a potential hydroelectric project near Sunset Falls.

An agreement between the two groups would need approval from PUD commissioners. Kim Moore, a manager at the PUD, said the earliest that decision could come is May 6.

“It looks like we may have a solution that works for both entities,” he said.

If FEMA were to make funds available to Index, Moore said, Riversites and the PUD would need to modify the deal.

Thom Boullioun, 62, has been hiking to his home with supplies on his back for months. The retired Boeing worker supports the deal with the PUD and is urging people through the neighborhood Facebook page to apply to FEMA for assistance.

“The hill just seems to have lost its consistency. It’s like oatmeal,” Boullioun said. “I hope we can get some help out here.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com.

Contact FEMA

Phone: 800-621-FEMA (3362)

Web: www.disasterassistance.gov

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