Officials to present Oso mudslide economic recovery plan

ARLINGTON — Officials have finished putting together a long-term plan to boost businesses and quality of life in the Stillaguamish Valley after the 2014 Oso mudslide.

Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert and Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin are scheduled to present the North Stillaguamish Valley Economic Redevelopment Plan to the Puget Sound Regional Council on Thursday.

Economic Alliance Snohomish County received a $150,000 federal grant and $50,000 from state and local partners in August 2014 to start the plan, which they finished in October. The goal is to help communities in the valley, from Arlington east to Darrington, recover.

The mudslide killed 43 people. It also destroyed 36 homes and buried a stretch of Highway 530, cutting Darrington off from the rest of Snohomish County. Early estimates of the cost of recovery efforts total $65 million, according to the plan.

A group of elected leaders and county staff worked with representatives from Washington State University and Workforce Snohomish to brainstorm ideas for the plan, which was written by Economic Alliance Snohomish County and contractor Community Attributes Inc. They hosted public forums, interviewed experts on environmental planning and emergency management, and sent surveys to local businesses.

Seven of every 10 local businesses said they suffered due to limited access after the slide.

“Post-disaster, particularly in rural economies that are hit hard, it’s about looking at it and as you rebuild the economy asking, ‘Can we do it better?’?” Tolbert said. “This was not a high socio-economic area before the slide, so we looked at what can we do to make it stronger.”

She and other leaders hope to make the Stilly Valley a place where people want to visit, stay for a while and come back. That means they need to draw more employers and visitors.

The plan digs into the valley’s strengths and weaknesses rather than focusing on generic challenges for rural economies, Tolbert said. It “was developed to tell the whole story,” she said.

The document could be a model for other communities trying to boost their economy or recover from a disaster, such as towns in Eastern Washington ravaged by wildfires over the summer, said Glenn Coil, senior manager of public policy and research at Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

“It is kind of a road map as the communities are moving forward,” he said.

Several infrastructure projects are considered high priority in the plan. Among them is a proposal to pave more of the Mountain Loop Highway, which has a 14-mile stretch of dirt and gravel along its 55-mile route between Darrington and Granite Falls. Building more roads that navigate Arlington’s industrial corridor near the municipal airport is another key project.

Other tasks outlined in the plan include: repairing the Whitehorse Trail, paving sidewalks, planting school gardens, allowing in-home businesses, extending library hours and improving high-speed internet access.

Many of the suggestions for Darrington are centered on the town’s roots in the timber industry and proximity to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Protecting forest roads, adding winter recreation options and working toward a sustainable timber industry are mentioned in the plan.

For Arlington’s end of the valley, planners are looking to expand the city as an anchor for family wage jobs in North Snohomish County. That means marketing the manufacturing and industrial corridor and assessing retail options around the city. The plan also recommends expanding the “Visit Stilly Valley” tourism campaign started in June 2014.

“The mudslide really is what caught our attention on the needs of these communities,” said Curtis Moulton, director of WSU Extension in Snohomish County.

Arlington and Darrington are tightly linked and the slide did lasting damage when it cut them off from each other, he said.

Some projects in the plan could happen in 2016, while others may take years, Moulton said. The document needs to look decades into the future if it’s meant to tackle something as big as bouncing back after a natural disaster.

“Our human resources research shows that it takes about five years to recover from a disaster,” Moulton said. “People up there are still really impacted by what happened. Creating new opportunities in the community is a way to help.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

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