By Barb Tolbert and Dan Rankin
The Oso Landslide has drawn the neighboring communities of Arlington and Darrington even closer together. For weeks hundreds of people focused on rescuing survivors, recovering 41 friends and neighbors whose lives were lost, and searching for two of which have yet to be found.
There are not enough words to express our thankfulness to all of the residents of our two communities, the hundreds of people outside of our area who stepped forward to search, comfort and encourage us during this great time of stress, sadness and need, and the many local, state and federal agencies that came to our assistance.
As the mayors of these two North Snohomish County communities, representing the Stillaguamish Valley Region, we are now working to avoid another casualty — our local economies that have been greatly weakened by the landslide.
Following state and national attention, including a visit from Barack President Obama and elected representatives in our county, state, and federal governments, we met in Arlington on April 24 with representatives of local businesses, the new U.S. Small Business Administration administrator, Maria Contreras-Sweet, members of the SBA Disaster Recovery Team, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Economic Alliance Snohomish County (EASC), Sen. Maria Cantwell and representatives from Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Suzan Delbene, Rep Rick Larsen and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, and county officials, to focus on creating strategies for economic redevelopment of the Stillaguamish Valley.
Our emphasis is on identifying, prioritizing and implementing redevelopment strategies. At our request, EASC prepared background information and redevelopment strategy information for the meeting that focused on several essential steps that must be taken to preserve and then energize the growth of the Stillaguamish Valley — including Arlington, Darrington and Oso.
A top priority, of course, is to reopen Highway 530 in order to re-connect the two communities. Present estimates of having the highway opened by the fall are sending shock waves through both Darrington and Arlington.
Darrington depends on summer tourism and logging for much of its economy. Leaving Highway 530 closed through the summer months is not acceptable. We must find a way to solve this dilemma even though 150,000-cubic yards of mud and debris, weighing hundreds of tons, still bury a major segment of the highway. When the highway was open, more than 4,000 vehicles traveled on it each day.
In Darrington, the community’s major employer, Hampton Mills, already struggles with a shortage of timber, a problem that could be solved by state approval of more logging on Washington-managed forestland near Darrington. A recent infusion of capital to Hampton Mills by the State Department of Commerce and United Way will help mitigate some immediate effects of the extended commute to the Hampton Mill’s rail yard in Arlington, but much more needs to be accomplished.
Many of the residents of Darrington are employed at Boeing’s Everett plant, and are now forced to make a several hour drive via Highway 20 to get back and forth to work, creating another costly hardship. A suggestion raised was to pave a 14-mile stretch of gravel road on the Mountain Loop Highway to create a shorter route from Darrington to the rest of Snohomish County, through Granite Falls. It would also upgrade the route to provide another significant highway link to boost tourism in the future.
Our strategic plan also emphasizes the need to develop the Stillaguamish Valley economy by moving ahead with establishment of an Arlington-Marysville Manufacturing &Industrial Center (MIC) that would make jobs available to the Stillaguamish Valley, including Darrington residents. The MIC development south of Arlington Municipal Airport, which already has an extensive manufacturing, industrial, and aviation profile, would spur job growth in North Snohomish County and might even attract construction of a Burlington Northern/Sante Fe rail spur into the MIC complex.
All that said, no one is calling the opportunity to receive state and federal assistance for economic development in the Stillaguamish Valley Region a “silver lining” to the disastrous landslide. The fatalities and destruction wrought by the disaster will never be forgotten. However, our communities must take advantage of opportunities to bolster our economies by helping to create jobs, tourism, and economic growth.
Maintaining a strong economy in both communities is essential for the well-being of all of our citizens, businesses and government agencies. The redevelopment of the economy will necessitate a sizable cadre of partners to move forward. We are encouraged by the participation of the county, state and federal governments, joined by EASC, on the focus of the planning and implementation. That’s why we’re placing so much emphasis now on restoring our economies to help us move forward — past this great tragedy.
Barb Tolbert is mayor of Arlington and Dan Rankin is mayor of Darrington. Together, the two communities, along with Oso, represent the affected areas of the Stillaguamish Valley.