Progress being made on mudslide commission’s key recommendations

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers are working to enact the key recommendations dealing with mudslides made by the commission that studied what happened at Oso last year.

Bills progressing through the House and Senate would make more data available to the public about slide-prone areas and ensure emergency resources are mobilized statewide if another calamitous slide occurs.

Also, discussions are under way on how much money to allot in the next state budget to hire geologists, pay for LiDAR mapping of areas with significant geologic hazards and to establish a clearinghouse where anyone can go to get that information.

These are the most critical actions the Joint SR 530 Landslide Commission recommended in its final report issued in December.

“That’s heartening to see,” Kathy Lombardo, the commission’s executive director, said of the legislative action to date. “Let’s keep up the pressure to make sure it all gets done and gets funded.”

Gov. Jay Inslee and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick created the commission to review the disaster and the emergency response to the muslide and to identify ways to improve public safety. The 12-member panel delivered the findings and recommendations in December.

Lovick said he’s been monitoring lawmakers’ progress.

“They’re doing great work,” he said. “I would give then an A-plus. They understand the importance of this.”

One of the panel’s top recommendations was to rewrite the state law on mobilization of firefighting resources in emergencies. It was not a new idea; fire chiefs from Snohomish County and around the state have been pushing for retooling the law for years.

What happened at Oso in March 2014 — when a request for fire service mobilization was denied because it was a non-fire emergency — fueled the urgency to get clarification done this session.

The House is expected to vote on a bill that makes it clear firefighting resources can be mobilized for non-fire emergencies such as slides, earthquakes, floods and outbreaks of contagious diseases.

House Bill 1389 also spells out that fire departments, fire districts and regional fire protection authorities are eligible for reimbursement of expenses incurred as part of any mobilization.

The commission also recommended that the state significantly expand mapping of geologic hazards and areas where slides are known to have occurred. As data is collected, it needs to be available for land-use planners, home buyers, scientists and anyone who’s interested, the panel said.

Last month, the state Senate approved a bill directing the Department of Natural Resources to improve its database and ensure that it is easily available to the public. Senate Bill 5088 is awaiting action in the House.

Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, wrote that bill and is keeping an eye on how the Legislature responds to the report.

“I believe everyone here is making it a priority,” he said. “We’ll get those two bills out and work on the funding issues through the budget.”

The governor has embraced all the recommendations. He’s expressed support for the laws dealing with mobilization and mapping, and his budget proposals released in December contain money to carry out the other commission suggestions.

For example, there is $36 million for slide mitigation and funding for advanced LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging imagery. That money is part of his 12-year transportation package.

And there’s money in Inslee’s operating budget for a Hazard Identification Institute, which he envisions to be a repository for geological hazard information in Washington. He wants to pay for a task force to study the state’s means of managing emergencies and suggest improvements. The task force would report back in December 2016.

Pearson said there are efforts under way to serve the needs of Stillaguamish Valley communities in addition to the commission’s ideas.

For example, he and the Department of Natural Resources are trying to secure $1.5 million in the capital budget to develop 20 miles of new bicycle trails and seven miles of hiking trails in the Darrington area.

And there’s another multimillion-dollar request for the Stilly Valley Youth that community leaders are seeking.

“Everybody here in the Legislature, from the governor on down, is working hard to help rebuild the communities and, from this great tragedy, pass good legislation that could potentially save lives in the future,” Pearson said.

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

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