EVERETT — An extended moratorium will prevent anyone from building — or rebuilding — in the mile-square area directly hit by the Oso mudslide, at least until mid-2015.
A separate building ban for the same period covers an area with increased flood risk along the North Fork Stillaguamish River, east of the disaster zone.
“The important thing about the moratorium we passed is we’ll be able to go through the winter season,” council chairman Dave Somers said. “The slide area will likely be unstable for some time. The river will have to find a new channel. This will give us a time out so people won’t be put in harm’s way.”
The March 22 landslide killed 43 people in the Steelhead Haven neighborhood and destroyed about 40 homes.
It also altered the path of the North Fork Stilly. Experts aren’t yet sure how the changed landscape will alter the river’s flow.
The moratoriums are set to expire in June, and could be renewed again.
In the meantime, county planners are revisiting some rules for building near steep slopes. They are including what they learned from the mudslide.
The county also wants to buy out property, including former home sites, in the area hit by slide debris. They hope to hear from the Federal Emergency Management Agency this spring about grants for the buyouts, Deputy County Executive Mark Ericks said.
The pause on building activity also should give the state time to start work on more detailed hazards maps of the Stillaguamish Valley and elsewhere in Washington. That was a major recommendation from a report released this week by an expert commission formed to identify public safety lessons from the Oso disaster.
County Councilman Ken Klein, whose district includes Oso, opposed the building ban in the flood area back in June. He supports it now.
“My concern was that would overlay this gigantic area where we’d say there would be no building at all,” Klein said. “I was worried more that we would be overstepping our bounds. That’s why I supported the immediate (slide) impact area, but not the flood overlay area.”
Only one request has come in to rebuild a home in the flood zone, Klein said. A permit was issued before the moratorium took effect in June.
Most county leaders, with Somers a notable exception, have shied away from considering more controversial land-use measures. A proposal to disclose landslide hazards on property titles faces opposition from many real estate agents. Builders also are concerned about possibly being required to perform more thorough geological studies as a condition of receiving building permits near steep slopes.
The Legislature may address some new landslide-related building restrictions when it meets next year.