County may add slide disclosure to some building permits

EVERETT — Before you can build a house in the potential path of destruction from the region’s most active volcano, Snohomish County makes you fill out a disclosure form acknowledging the risk.

In addition to the Glacier Peak hazard areas, the county requires a disclosure form to build within 200 feet of tsunami danger.

The County Council is talking seriously now about a similar rule for landslide threats.

How that idea takes shape remains to be seen. It’s the easiest to implement of the suggestions that have surfaced since elected leaders started looking into improving county building rules following the catastrophic Oso mudslide.

“This form would advise applicants that they are building within a landslide-hazard area or its setbacks,” planning director Clay White told council members last week.

The county also is looking for ways to let people know about any existing geological reports performed on their property and on file with the planning department. The county hopes to make those documents available online, White said.

The March 22 mudslide has stirred up a policy debate over the county’s duty to inform and protect people from natural disasters.

The slide sent 10 million cubic yards of dirt and debris cascading over a square mile. As of last week, authorities had identified 41 dead, with another set of remains pending identification and two people from the neighborhood still missing.

Finger-pointing over the county’s building regulations began within days of the slide, before the magnitude of the disaster had even come into focus.

To date, the county and the state of Washington have been hit with nine damage claims by family members of the dead and survivors whose property was destroyed. The claims are a precursor to lawsuits.

County Council Chairman Dave Somers last month proposed a temporary ban on home construction within a half-mile of steep slopes. Now, that looks unlikely because a half-mile or even a quarter-mile buffer would place most of the county off-limits to new home building.

“I’ve struggled with our role, whether it is to protect people or is it just to notify them and let them know what the hazards are and let them make their own decisions,” Somers said during a council meeting last week. “There’s some balance there that we have to strike.”

Council members and county planners also are exploring ways to impose building restrictions around the immediate slide area and the backed-up flood waters to the east, where the upended landscape caused the North Fork Stillaguamish River to deviate from normal flood patterns.

Lawmakers also could toughen regulations for construction near the bottom or the top of steep slopes. People could still build in those areas if a geological expert can justify the project. County policy makers have talked about specific guidelines for the geotechnical reports, which would make the process more expensive.

The county’s disclosure rules for volcano and tsunami hazards took effect in 2007, as part of the framework for building near environmentally critical areas.

A Glacier Peak eruption could blanket Darrington and the North Fork Stillaguamish River valley in a lahar — a destructive volcano-induced mudflow.

The valley includes the Steelhead Haven neighborhood wiped out in the Oso slide. Only one house in the neighborhood has a volcanic hazard form on file with the county auditor. It was recorded in 2009 as part of the permitting process for a double-wide mobile home later placed on a Steelhead Drive lot. Owners Irvin and Judith Wood of Bothell were away when the slide wiped out that home.

No tsunami disclosures have been recorded in the county, permitting manager Tom Rowe said.

Another prong of the policy discussion involves finding ways to better map landslide dangers. County leaders hope to piggyback on any work by federal or state scientists. They’re also considering joining forces with King County to assess landslide risks.

Council members plan to resume the discussion about a building moratorium and other landslide topics at their 10:30 meeting on Monday.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Long live the Speedway! Mukilteo’s main drag won’t be renamed

The public shot down the mayor’s idea to change the name: 77% voted ‘No’ in an online survey, with 95% opposed on Facebook.

Everett
Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Junelle Lewis, right, daughter Tamara Grigsby and son Jayden Hill sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monroe’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
On Juneteenth: ‘We can always say that there is hope’

The Snohomish County NAACP is co-sponsoring a celebration Saturday near Snohomish, with speakers, music and food.

Firefighter hopefuls suit up during the Future Women in EMS/Fire Workshop on Saturday, June 22, 2024, at the South County Fire Training Center in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
To fill gap, Snohomish County tries new approach to recruit women firefighters

About 30 women tried on bunker gear, pulled rope and worked chainsaws at a first-of-its-kind workshop Saturday.

Granite Falls
Man, 35, dies from heart attack while hiking Lake 22

The man suffered a heart attack about 1½ miles into the 6-mile hike east of Granite Falls on Friday, authorities said.

36 hours after final show, Everett radio host Charlye Parker, 80, dies

When Parker got into radio, she was a rarity: a woman in a DJ booth. For the past 12 years, she hosted weekend country music shows at KXA.

Homeowners Jim and Chris Hall stand beneath their new heat pump, at right, inside their Whidbey Island home on Thursday, Sep. 7, 2023, near Langley, Washington. The couple, who are from Alaska, have decreased their use of their wood burning stove to reduce their carbon footprint. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County to start ‘kicking gas’ in push for all-electric homes

Last year, 118 Whidbey Island homes installed energy-efficient heat pumps. A new campaign aims to make the case for induction stoves now, too.

Dr. Scott Macfee and Dr. Daniel Goodman outside of the Community Health Center on Wednesday, June 12, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett CHC doctors, feeling like ‘commodities,’ speak up on ailing system

At the Community Health Center of Snohomish County, doctors say they feel like “rats getting off a sinking ship.” They want it to get better.

Construction occurs at 16104 Cascadian Way in Bothell, Washington on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County real estate values tick up 4.5% in assessor’s report

You’ve got mail: The Snohomish County Assessor’s Office will send property tax statements this week.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.