Joint county-state panel to probe mudslide events

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick are nearly ready to convene a commission that will delve into events preceding and following the deadly Oso landslide.

Launch of the joint county-state panel could be announced as early as this week by the two leaders, who first pledged to set up a commission in late April.

Since then, Inslee and Lovick have not revealed who will serve nor offered many details on what they will focus on. They’ve also been quiet about the cost.

“We are very close to announcing all of that,” said David Postman, Inslee’s communications chief and one of a handful of state and county employees involved in setting up the panel.

Though the group will be launched weeks later than imagined, Postman said no one is rushing.

“It just pays to be thoughtful up front,” he said. “We want to set this up for success.”

A key question will be how deeply the commission probes into the circumstances of the March 22 disaster that killed 43 people. Searchers still hope to find the lone missing victim, Kris Regelbrugge, 44.

In April, Lovick said the group is “going to look at everything that happened. They’re going to cover every single detail.”

On Thursday, he made clear to The Herald editorial board the commission will be looking to assess actions taken in the emergency and not to assign blame for anything that occurred.

The governor and county executive do not want the work of the commission entangled in ongoing legal wrangling. A lawsuit and a dozens of claims already have been filed against the state and county related to the landslide.

It appears the scope of the commission will be three-fold.

First, commissioners will try to construct a historic narrative of the geologic and relevant political events in the years before the landslide including land-use and logging decisions.

It will review the rescue and recovery effort, then look for ways public, private and nonprofit forces could improve their responses during a catastrophic emergency.

Lovick and Inslee remained mum last week on who will serve on the commission. Postman has said the two leaders will “weigh in” on the choice of chairman but not handpick that person.

The cost of this undertaking could be huge, or not. Lovick has said the tab could reach $1 million and is counting on the state to cover the biggest portion. Federal aid might also be sought to defray costs, he has said.

But not all that money is needed up front.

“I don’t think the required budget to get them started is that much,” Postman said Thursday.

Noah Haglund contributed to this report.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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