By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
OSO — Flags around Washington were set to be at half staff starting Tuesday to honor the dead from the March 22 mudslide, as officials began sounding out people’s thoughts on rebuilding a buried highway.
Under a directive from Gov. Jay Inslee, flags at state facilities are to stay lowered for a full week in memory of those lost.
In Darrington on Monday night, state officials met with locals about reconnecting Highway 530 through the Stillaguamish Valley, among other topics. More meetings are scheduled tonight in Oso and Wednesday in Arlington.
“This is primarily going to be a listening session,” said Travis Phelps, a state Department of Transportation spokesman.
The slide buried more than a mile of Highway 530, east of Oso. So far, that’s taken a back seat to the human toll: 36 people have been confirmed dead with another seven officially missing.
The slide and subsequent flooding has destroyed or damaged some $6.7 million worth of homes and land, including 36 houses and a dozen manufactured homes.
State transportation officials aren’t yet sure what steps they’ll have to take to rebuild the highway, or how much it will cost, Phelps said.
Though nearly half of the buried route had been cleared of debris by last week, any future highway may need to follow a different course at a higher elevation. That’s because the slide covered the roadway in debris piled several stories tall in some places. Additionally, the collapse of the hillside rerouted the North Fork Stillaguamish River.
State transportation officials haven’t been able to check on the roadway in some areas because of the ongoing search for the missing.
“There are a lot of challenges put in place by this landslide, so it’s walking people through that step by step,” Phelps said.
Nearly 3,000 people live in the valley from the slide area and east into Darrington, according to the latest Census data.
An access road between the Oso and Darrington sides of Highway 530 remains closed to all but emergency workers and vehicles granted special permission, such as school buses.
Hundreds of workers and volunteers continue to comb the debris field.
Crews hope to pump floodwaters from a 22-acre area on the southeast portion of the slide by Friday or soon thereafter, said Doug Weber, Seattle-based chief of emergency management for the Army Corps of Engineers. Water has prevented searchers from exploring the area.
The Corps and Snohomish County public works staff have finished the bulk of work on a 3,000-foot temporary berm to shield the area from further inundation. They’re still working to build it higher.
“I know this berm will be helpful in getting that additional area searched,” Weber said.
By keeping the area dry, the berm also should make it easier to haul away debris, he said.
Eventually, the Corps of Engineers, county planners and others will need to discuss re-routing the Stilly through the valley. Weber said those conversations have barely begun.
Inslee and other state leaders plan to honor the dead at noon today by lowering the flags in front of the Capitol.
The governor issued a directive that flags at all state facilities in Washington be lowered to half-staff from noon until at least the end of the day next Tuesday. That marks one month since the mudslide, and is the same day President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the slide area.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, email@example.com.
Meetings on Highway 530
Snohomish County and the state Department of Transportation have scheduled meetings to discuss the Highway 530, which was blocked by the March 22 landslide. Two meetings remain:
Oso: today, 7 to 9 p.m., Oso Community Chapel, 22318 Highway 530.
Arlington: Wednesday, 6 to 8 p.m., Stillaguamish Senior Center, main hall, 18308 Smokey Point Blvd.