Petition aims to keep volunteer searchers involved

A Darrington man is pressing state officials to make sure residents involved in the search for victims of the Oso mudslide can continue their efforts during the clearing of Highway 530.

Nearly 800 people have signed a petition drafted by Brian Roggenbuck to ensure those who volunteered after the March 22 slide are not barred from helping find the last two bodies once a state-hired contractor begins the debris removal project.

“Hundreds of local volunteers showed up with heavy equipment and chainsaws to undertake the immense task of searching for survivors,” reads the petition. “We want those local contractors and workers who rushed to volunteer after the slide to be allowed to participate in restoring the main road to Darrington.”

Roggenbuck insisted Thursday it’s not about money and jobs; it’s about finding the last two people missing — Steven N. Hadaway, 53, and Kris Regelbrugge, 44 — and reuniting them with their families. “Our hope has always been to find everyone. It is like a mission,” he said. “We want to finish the job.”

Any day now the state Department of Transportation will award a contract for removing tons of materials on the two-lane highway that is the lifeline to Darrington.

Nine firms bid for the work, with IMCO General Construction of Ferndale submitting the apparent low bid of $4.9 million, according to documents posted on the agency website. The bids were opened Wednesday.

Federal Highway Administration funds will pay for the work. As a result, federal rules must be followed. That means the state cannot require the contractor to hire locals, or offer incentives to do so, said Travis Phelps, spokesman for the Department of Transportation.

That doesn’t prevent a contractor from hiring anyone it wants for jobs it needs to fill.

To that end, Phelps said the agency is committed to getting the contractor to meet with members of the community in hopes they will choose to tap into the “logger up” spirit demonstrated since the Steelhead Haven neighborhood disappeared under the fallen hill.

“We’ve been hearing pretty loud and clear that locals do want a piece of the action for the clearing and rebuilding of Highway 530,” Phelps said. “If we can get some of these folks employed, that would be great.”

Gov. Jay Inslee backs the strategy.

“We understand the community’s desire to remain engaged in this work and support WSDOT’s efforts to provide the opportunity for them to do so,” said Jaime Smith, Inslee’s director of media relations.

Roggenbuck said he appreciated the spirit of the commitment, but isn’t convinced contractors will embrace it.

“We would jump at the opportunity (to work) once the contract is let,” he said.

He said he and others learned through spending hours at the site how to search efficiently, effectively and respectfully. He worries employees of whatever firm is hired won’t have the experience to do the same from the outset.

“We are willing to go out there and we would donate our time,” said Roggenbuck, who said he’ll go back to logging once the last bodies are found. “Let’s just find everybody.”

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

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