The massive slide that killed 43 people is shown in a 2014 aerial photo taken two days after it occurred near Oso, Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The massive slide that killed 43 people is shown in a 2014 aerial photo taken two days after it occurred near Oso, Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Landslide law, sparked by Highway 530 slide, set for renewal in Congress

Led by Washington Democrats in Congress, the national legislation looks to continue efforts to understand and respond to landslides.

OSO — Two months before the 10-year anniversary of the deadly Highway 530 slide near Oso, Washington’s congressional delegation has introduced a bill to better protect against landslides.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, Rep. Kim Schrier and Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, all Democrats, introduced legislation to reauthorize the National Landslide Preparedness Act through the end of 2028. DelBene and Sen. Maria Cantwell introduced the original bill, passed by Congress in 2020.

Schrier represents District 8, where the Highway 530 slide killed 43 people and devastated a community in March 2014. It became turning point to move forward legislation to better understand and map landslide risk. The original bill was first introduced March 22, 2017, the third anniversary of the slide. DelBene was Oso’s representative during the Highway 530 Slide, redistricting has since changed her district’s boundaries.

The new bill would reauthorize expanded early warning systems in places where landslides are more likely, including in recently burned areas.

The measure would also continue the National Landslides Hazard Reduction program through the U.S. Geological Survey. That program looks to help protect at-risk neighborhoods by improving communication and emergency preparedness.

“This bill will make crucial investments to further our understanding of landslides, improve our preparation for these natural disasters, and ultimately safeguard our communities,” Schrier said in a press release Thursday. “This is even more important as increasing wildfires west of the Cascades raises the risk of landslides.”

And the legislation would reauthorize a program to provide better hazard maps. A grant program and a landslide advisory committee would continue under the bill.

“We must recognize that every state faces some level of landslide risk and remain committed to proactively addressing the increasing rate of these hazards,” DelBene said in a release. “This legislation ensures the critical research that is already providing the information and resources necessary to help communities prepare for and mitigate the fatal impacts of landslides can continue uninterrupted.”

Landslides kill between 25 and 50 people each year in the United States and cause billions of dollars in property damage, according to DelBene’s office.

Part of what came out of the 2021 law was a report by the geological survey detailing some of the challenges posed by landslides. The 2022 report found three major challenges to reducing the country’s vulnerability to them.

“(1) gaps in basic information needed to describe and understand landslide occurrence and societal risk, (2) difficulty in accurately mapping and forecasting landslide hazards, and (3) communication and coordination among the many jurisdictions and sectors that have responsibility for and interest in reducing landslide losses,” the report states.

There are many gaps. For example, the report notes some maps are inaccurate or haven’t been updated, among other issues.

“Currently, there is no mechanism for sustained communication or collaboration among the agencies that study landslides, the agencies that decide how to best reduce potential losses, and the groups affected by landslides,” the report says. “Discussions have been informal and ad hoc, typically occurring either at annual professional scientific meetings or intermittent interagency meetings convened in response to a landslide event.”

The reauthorization of the bill was cosponsored by other members of the Washington delegation in the other Washington, including U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, of Everett, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Rep. Derek Kilmer, Rep. Adam Smith, Rep. Dan Newhouse and Rep. Marilyn Strickland.

“We sincerely appreciate Congresswoman DelBene’s leadership on this important issue,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in a release. “In the aftermath of the tragic SR-530 slide near Oso, her efforts led to a much greater understanding not only of Snohomish County’s landslide risks but also provided resources for communities throughout the country to better understand their risk.”

Snohomish County now has a hazard viewer tool where the public can input an address and find what hazards they could face, including landslides. The county has other webpages dedicated to the topic as well.

Development in areas with landslide concerns is now extremely limited in Snohomish County: Building is “not allowed in landslide hazard areas unless certain criteria are met and no other alternative is available.”

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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