Landslide risk areas found across the county

If you have a nice view, chances are you live near a landslide waiting to happen — though it’s possible the earth will stay put for thousands of years.

Local cities have been fielding more questions about landslide risks since the collapse of a hillside in Oso killed at least 41 people.

Communities near coastal bluffs or above lowland valleys don’t face the same type of risk as the March 22 slide. Still, the calamity in the North Fork Stillaguamish River valley has people everywhere in Snohomish County hankering to learn more about the ground above and below.

“We do have a lot of steep slopes and we’re definitely talking about the issue and what we’re going to do moving forward,” Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said. “Views of the sound usually go along with slopes.”

Most prevalent along coastal bluffs and in mountain valleys, landslide risks nevertheless can be found throughout the county. Places such as Woodway and Picnic Point have seen some of the more spectacular slides. Moving earth also has been a problem in Marysville, where a sloughing slope endangered homes above the Cedarcrest Golf Course in the late 1990s.

County Council members discovered how widespread landslide areas are earlier this week. They were considering a moratorium on residential construction within a half mile of landslide hazards identified by the state. They changed tack after a map revealed that a half-mile buffer would stop home building on almost all of the county’s developed — and developable — land.

Washington state since the 1990s has required cities to identify geologically hazardous areas.

In Edmonds, Everett and Mukilteo city governments, no one’s talking about re-writing building codes to keep people safe from landslides, but public works and building officials are looking at how to keep people better informed.

“There’s really a heightened interest in that whole topic,” Edmonds public works director Phil Williams said.

Edmonds has scheduled a talk by geotechnical engineer as part of the regular City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Williams said. The talk is to focus, in part, on a section of north Edmonds where the city long ago imposed stricter building rules because of landslide dangers.

Everett has landslide problem spots between downtown and Mukilteo as well as along the ridge that includes the Valley View neighborhood where houses are already falling down the hillside, and Lowell-Larimer Road. There’s also an unstable bluff bordering the Northwest Neighborhood.

Months before the natural disaster in Oso, Everett had planned a May 10 workshop about how people living on or near slopes can help lessen the chances of erosion and slides. The city sent out 2,400 invites to property owners in danger zones.

The state transportation department is leading a working group to try to protect the railroad tracks between Everett and Ballard. Slides during wet weather have been a nuisance and danger for train traffic along that stretch.

The working group, which also includes Burlington Northern Santa Fe and local governments, has $16 million in federal money to try to fix some of the most unstable areas. They’ve completed two projects in Snohomish County and have four more in queue.

Two transportation officials helping to lead the project are scheduled to update the Mukilteo City Council at 7 p.m. Monday, a presentation that’s been in the works for months.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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