Landslide-mapping bill approved and sent to governor

OLYMPIA — The first major change in state policy inspired by the Oso mudslide cleared the final legislative hurdle Wednesday.

The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a Senate bill directing the Department of Natural Resources to expand advanced landform mapping and make the resulting data widely available online.

Under the bill, which now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee for his expected signature, the agency is to collect and disseminate detailed information on landslide-prone areas in the state.

Monroe Republican Rep. Elizabeth Scott, who represents the communities devastated by the March 22, 2014, mudslide, spoke briefly on the House floor before the final vote.

“This is a great bill,” she said. “We’re very excited to see it come to passage.”

Scott said that if the public can easily access map data on a website, it “will put a lot of fears to rest” by giving property owners information with which to assess geologic threats.

The bill passed 97-0 in the House. The Senate approved it 48-0 in February.

DNR has mapped many areas with potential geologic hazards using tools such as conventional aerial surveys. Senate Bill 5088 clears the way for the agency to use more-advanced lidar technology, which uses lasers to map topography in great detail.

“It will take a deeper look at our landslide-prone areas and our coastline,” said Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, the bill’s prime sponsor.

However, DNR will need additional money to pay for the mapping and to hire people to do the work proscribed in the bill.

DNR requested $6.6 million in the next state budget to hire 14 people to collect and analyze lidar survey data. Today, its Division of Geology and Earth Resources has two geologists focused on mapping and three on geologic hazards, officials have said.

Democrats included $4.6 million in the House budget while Republicans provided the agency with no additional money in the Senate proposal. The two chambers will need to reconcile their differences in the final budget agreement.

The bill carries out one of the priority recommendations of the Joint SR 530 Landslide Commission, a nonpartisan panel created by Inslee and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick to review the disaster and the emergency response.

It recommended that the state significantly expand mapping of geologic hazards and areas where landslides are known to have occurred. As data is collected, it should be available for land-use planners, home buyers, scientists and anyone who’s interested, the panel recommended.

Lawmakers are expected to enact another of the panel’s recommendations in the near future.

The Senate will soon vote on a House bill to clarify the state law on mobilization of firefighting resources in emergencies to include non-fire emergencies such as landslides, earthquakes and floods.

A request for fire service mobilization was denied after the Oso mudslide because it was a non-fire emergency.

House Bill 1389 also spells out that fire departments, fire districts and regional fire protection authorities are eligible for reimbursement of expenses incurred as part of any mobilization.

It is presently in the Senate Rules Committee.

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

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