County reimbursing landowners for damage during search and rescue

OSO — Snohomish County government has written more than a quarter-million dollars in checks to landowners whose property was damaged by search and rescue operations after the fatal March 22 mudslide.

Within the first few days, lawyers with the county prosecutor’s office determined that landowners would need to be paid for the damage from the rescue efforts.

Land-use agreements were reached as crews set up tents and first aid stations and created gravel parking lots on private land.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to reimburse the county for those costs, said Gary Haakenson, the county manager overseeing slide recovery. The standard rate is $100 a day for using someone’s land in a disaster response.

The burden is on the property owners, though, to provide receipts, pictures and other proof of the damage, Haakenson said.

They face a complicated bidding process. The county is helping with the paperwork.

So far, $282,000 has been paid to eight property owners. The eighth check went out last week.

That does not cover damage from the mudslide itself, or the flooding that followed, just the rescue and recovery efforts.

The county still is negotiating with others.

“Most people have been pretty fair,” Haakenson said. “They understand there was a reason why their property had to be used.”

Don and Elaine Young lost neighbors in the slide. They ferried supplies across their land to the recovery workers, who included their son, Coby, 20. Flooding from the North Fork Stillaguamish River, which was dammed by mud, destroyed half of the Youngs’ home. The mud backflowed through the small creek that crosses their 12 acres. For weeks, their home along Highway 530 was a staging ground.

The Youngs were approached by the county about compensation before they had time to think about the damage, Elaine Young said.

They were focused on life and death, not dirt and fences, she said.

“We said, ‘Use what you need to use, do what you need to, we don’t care,’ ” she said. “We never asked.”

With the $82,000 from the county, the Youngs plan to hire local contractors. The work will involve removing bark, gravel and debris, repairing the driveway, putting up new fencing and replanting fields. Big rigs crisscrossed their property to reach the debris field, knocking down acres of fencing.

Cory and Julie Kuntz were the Youngs’ neighbors. They paid another visit to their property last week.

It looks so much different now.

The slide destroyed their home while they were on their way to watch their son’s high school baseball game. Their eight-acre plot was damaged again during the rescue and recovery efforts. Crews cut down trees, moved dirt and laid down gravel.

The county paid the couple $35,747.

It seems a fair price, given the restoration work that needed to be done, Julie said.

“No one wants to profit from it,” she said.

The couple remains in housing limbo. They’re renting in town as they continue to work with FEMA, hoping an agreement can be reached on the slide-caused damage.

It is still too early to know if they will be able to build again on the land. Even if they can, they don’t know if they will, given the sad memories.

Both are Darrington High School graduates. Their roots run deep and they want to stay in the Stillaguamish Valley.

They just can’t imagine finding another place as nice as what they once had.

“I heard a lot of the neighbors say we live in a little piece of heaven,” she said.

In addition to their grief, some slide survivors are living with around-the-clock construction.

Elaine Young tries to focus on little projects, helping her neighbors, to stay busy.

The rank smell of the mud still permeates her home.

“Everybody forgets, but we still live it every day,” she said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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