No dissent as House backs effort to pinpoint landslide risks

Use of 3-D maps to help scientists identify disasters before they happen was a bipartisan winner.

A unanimous U.S. House of Representatives Monday embraced creating a federal program to identify areas at risk of landslides, in the hope of anticipating disasters like the deadly mudslide five years ago that claimed 43 lives near Oso.

On a voice vote, the House approved the National Landslide Preparedness Act, which would increase high-resolution mapping of geologically hazardous zones across the country and make those 3-D maps publicly available in a national database.

The act also would expand existing early warning systems of potential landslides in recently burned and flooded areas, promote improved coordination between emergency responders and assist local, state and tribal governments to assess lurking geologic dangers.

“Unfortunately this type of event is not unique to Oso, or Washington state,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, the bill’s sponsor, on the House floor prior to the bill’s passage. Oso is in her congressional district.

“Every state in the country faces some amount of landslide risk, a risk that has not been well identified or addressed when compared to earthquakes, hurricanes, or floods,” DelBene said. “We need to do more to ensure that we fund programs and research efforts to prevent future natural disasters from becoming national tragedies.”

The next stop for House Bill 1261 is the Senate, where a companion bill is awaiting a floor vote.

“This is a good day,” DelBene said in an interview following the vote. “It wasn’t controversial to make sure we had a focus on landslides. Now we’ll work on getting support in the Senate and getting it on the floor.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Edmonds is the prime sponsor of the Senate bill. It cleared the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on a bipartisan vote in April.

This legislation will help local communities prepare for responses to landslides and natural hazards,” Cantwell said in a statement Monday. “Our plan will help protect communities and property, save lives through early detection warning systems, improve emergency planning and response to many elements by doing science and mapping critical to understanding landslides and risks.”

When she introduced the bill, DelBene said she envisioned the federal program complementing work by Washington’s Department of Natural Resources and counterpart agencies in other states.

DNR has made progress mapping and analyzing data about the glacially formed landscape in the upper half of the state, including Snohomish County. The agency has requested more money from the Legislature for the coming years. The work relies heavily on aerial maps created through laser-surveying technology known as lidar.

The federal law would direct the U.S. Geological Survey to create a National Landslide Hazards Reduction Program. Goals would include setting research priorities, coordinating work among agencies and developing a national landslide database. Not only would the database be used to gauge risks, but also impacts on health, the economy and the environment. Beyond public safety, the information could prove valuable for managing agriculture and natural resources, transportation and other infrastructure.

The act would authorize up to $37 million in funding in each of the next four federal fiscal years for the hazards reduction program. The bulk of the money — $25 million — would go to the U.S. Geological Survey. Another $11 million would go to the National Science Foundation. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also would receive $1 million to work on an early warning system for post-wildfire debris flows.

It also would authorize up to $40 million in each of those four years for grants and cooperative agreements “to facilitate the improvement of nationwide coverage of 3D elevation data.” Agreements could be made between the Department of Interior and other federal agencies as well as local, state or tribal governments, universities and nonprofit research institutions, according to the legislation.

Although the bill authorizes up to $77 million in spending each year, the actual appropriation would ultimately be decided during budget negotiations between the two chambers.

DelBene pushed a nearly identical bill two years ago. It had bipartisan support then too. But she served in the minority and not many Democratic bills got voted on.

In 2018, her party regained control of the chamber.

“It definitely helps to be in the majority to make sure it gets onto the floor and passed,” she said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

More in Local News

A masked passenger sits in front of an empty row of seats on an Alaska Airlines flight from Spokane to Sea-Tac Monday evening. (Julie Muhlstein) 20201026
Flying to see family, it was a risk that seemed like a must

After eight months of not seeing my 98-year-old mom, a trip to my Spokane hometown was short and sweet.

Three people were shot at the Boo Han Oriental Market Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, off of Highway 99 in Edmonds. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Charges: Boo Han shooter stalked wife, sent alarming texts

Duy Nguyen is charged with killing his wife’s friend and wounding two others at an Edmonds market.

As seen in body-camera video, an Everett police sergeant places handcuffs on Joseph Michael Hill, 39, while kneeling on his back. Everett's chief says it was reasonable use of force. Hill's attorney disagrees. (Everett Police Department) 20200524
Plea deal reached in case of Black man pinned by Everett cop

Joseph Hill’s arrest led Everett police to amend their policy. All charges except resisting arrest were dropped.

Firefighters were dispatched to a burning home Wednesday night in Monroe. (Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue)
Fire crews fight blaze at Monroe-area house throughout night

No injuries were reported. Access to water was a challenge as firefighters fought the flames.

Lilah 2 TEASER
Langley man builds automatic candy dispenser for Halloween

People are still finding ways to partake in the holiday’s celebrations in a safe manner.

Monroe Police Department
Police search for Monroe bank robbery suspect, hope for tips

A search with a police dog and drone could not track down the suspect Monday afternoon.

Darrington man sentenced in death of 2 horses he starved

He submitted an Alford plea, not admitting guilt but acknowledging a jury would likely convict him.

Bail set at $1 million in homicide outside Tulalip casino

The Spanaway man is accused of assaulting his girlfriend, who had a medical condition.

Jana Smith places her sister Jody Loomis' boot back into an evidence bag while testify on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Trial in Mill Creek murder tests memories of 48 years ago

Jody Loomis’ sister testified this week in the trial of a man accused of killing the 20-year-old in 1972.

Most Read