Governor signs law for geologic hazards mapping

OLYMPIA — A new law signed by the governor Friday aims to give residents a wealth of new information about geologic dangers lurking in Washington.

Now the challenge is getting enough money in the next state budget to make it happen.

The bill signed by Gov. Jay Inslee directs the Department of Natural Resources to expand precision mapping of areas prone to landslides and other geologic hazards and to put the information in an easily accessible online database.

The bill represents the first major policy change inspired by the 2014 Oso mudslide, which killed 43 people. It was a priority recommendation of the nonpartisan commission that reviewed the disaster and the emergency response.

After signing Senate Bill 5088, Inslee said it will enable the state to “take reasonable measures to try to prevent tragedies that are so painful” to Washington.

In a written statement, the bill’s prime sponsor said using the best technology to study the state’s geology will “identify these dangers before they cause major harm and destruction.”

“This bill will help save lives and property from a disaster like we saw in Oso,” said Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe.

Senate Bill 5088 passed unanimously in both chambers, but DNR’s leader said its thoroughness will depend on the amount of money lawmakers provide the agency.

Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said he requested $6.6 million to map and analyze areas threatened not only by landslides but also by earthquakes, tsunamis and lahars.

He said that amount of money would enable hiring 10 new geologists and four employees to provide technical support. Today the state’s Division of Geology and Earth Sciences has two geologists focused on mapping and three on geologic hazards, according to an agency spokesman.

House Democrats approved $4.6 million in their budget to cover employees and resources needed for expanded mapping of landslide-prone regions with lidar, an aerial survey tool involving lasers. Senate Republicans provided no money in their budget, though writers of the spending plan said that was an oversight and they’ll support funding.

Goldmark said Friday he is pushing for the full request.

“Lidar is of supreme importance, but we don’t want to let up on mapping and providing accurate information on the other geologic risks as well,” he said. “I feel we can’t go halfway on public safety.”

The state Department of Natural Resources has mapped many areas with potential geologic hazards using tools such as aerial surveys, according to DNR spokesman Joe Smillie.

The new law clears the way for the agency to develop maps using the more advanced remote sensing technology known as lidar that provides greater dimensional detail.

It directs DNR to create and maintain a publicly available database of the data.

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

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