Mudslide cost could hit $20M, county says

OSO — For Snohomish County government alone, the cost of the Oso mudslide could reach $20 million, an official said Wednesday.

The county expects to be reimbursed for 75 percent of its expenses responding to the disaster. The process requires extensive documentation, including receipts for purchases.

“It’s a big job, and it’s important because this is taxpayer money,” said Mark Ericks, Snohomish County deputy executive.

More than 600 searchers continue to work in the debris field and recover victims. At least 39 bodies had been recovered as of Wednesday. Of those, 36 have been identified. Six people remain listed as missing.

Highway 530 likely will be closed for months.

Meanwhile, officials are beginning to focus on ways to revive Darrington’s damaged economy, Ericks said. The county is sending staff with experience in trade and tourism.

Last week, county leaders approved a one-year lease of a former bank building in Darrington, Ericks said. The building will be used for economic recovery efforts. Part of the team will include people who are trained in working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and assistance applications.

“For sure, we’re going to be there for a year,” Ericks said Wednesday.

The county assessor and treasurer are working on potential property tax relief for victims, Ericks said.

More than 34 houses were damaged by the slide and at least 10 manufactured homes, in addition to vacant lots, camping sites and other kinds of buildings.

The mud is still deep.

Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began building a 3,000-foot berm through the debris field, west of C-Post Road. The plan is to pump floodwater out of the area behind the berm to look for human remains.

On Wednesday, crews were working to raise the height of the berm by a foot to provide additional protection to the area from expected rainfall, said Tanya King, an Army Corps spokeswoman. That work should wrap up Thursday.

More than 20,000 tons of rock, gravel and earth were used for the berm.

A new large, floating excavator was en route to the scene on Wednesday. The machine will be used to speed up the work draining floodwater.

Engineers also are using GPS technology to map the flooded areas and the changing path of the North Fork Stillaguamish River.

That information will help officials decide what to do with the highway, parts of which remain buried and parts of which no longer exist.

The state Department of Transportation has been talking about the highway’s future at public meetings in Darrington, Oso and Arlington. The last of those was set for Wednesday evening.

For now, the service road along the debris field is open only to emergency crews and those in the community with special “passports.”

At some point, the state expects to open the road for some public use.

Increasing traffic on the road, combined with rainfall, already has created the need for additional turnouts and work to improve the road’s surface, much of it gravel.

Few new details have been made public about President Barack Obama’s visit to Snohomish County, scheduled for Tuesday.

Local volunteers continue to work in the field alongside state and national teams. Many of those who worked the first few days have said they’ve been returning to the scene, to check on those they met and see the progress being made.

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

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