Spotters explain further why they walked away

OSO — They left in anger and frustration.

At least a dozen spotters, hired to examine the soil for missing possessions and human remains as crews clear Highway 530 from the March 22 Oso mudslide, walked away from the debris fields earlier this week. They cited safety concerns and said they weren’t given adequate time to do their jobs.

Among them was Tom Keller, whose brother-in-law Steven Hadaway, of Darrington, is one of two people presumed dead but whose bodies have not been found along with the 41 confirmed victims.

Keller said he worries workers could get hurt or worse, only compounding the tragedy.

“There is no way I’m going to risk somebody else’s life,” he said.

State Department of Transportation officials insist that the highway clearing is being carried out in a respectful and methodical way and that procedures set by the Snohomish County Medical Examiners Office are being followed by the contractor and subcontractor.

“There are still two people missing,” agency spokesman Travis Phelps said. “We totally understand that. We want to make sure we have processes in place where we aren’t missing anything.”

Phelps said there are multiple opportunities for spotters and archeologists to examine the dirt, on site and where it is being dumped at a rock pit*.

He also insisted that the state will spend as long as necessary to clear the highway.

Several who quit as spotters worked in the debris fields for weeks during the search and recovery mission. They said they weren’t motivated by money when they hired on. Rather, they wanted to help families who lost loved ones.

Logan Shull, a former volunteer for the Rural Arlington fire district, lost friends.

The pace of the work on the highway project has prevented any meaningful search of the soil, he said.

“I made a commitment to myself to be out there until everyone was recovered,” he said. “The idea was as we punch the road, we are continuing to look for people. It was not that way at all.

“We need people to understand what they are doing is wrong,” he said.

Vonne VanLaningham, of Arlington, was a lead spotter at the Oso pit where dirt was dumped.

“We were just not allowed to do what we were hired to do,” she said. “It was just truck after truck dump and go. Everything was going so fast.”

She also said the work brought them dangerously close to the trucks and machinery. Others said the walks to and from their spotting stations weren’t safe.

The spotters said they believed a financial incentive built into the contract between the federal and state government ratcheted up the pace. The federal government is paying 87 percent of the cost of work for the first 30 days. After that, the rate drops to 82 percent.

It was a detail they heard more than once in the debris fields.

Phelps dismissed the timeline and compensation rate as factors.

“The reimbursement rate is not dictating our pace,” he said.

That is determined by what is found, Phelps said. When a car was discovered, for example, work slowed down.

The pace picked up lately because “a lot of what we have been finding is relatively clean soil,” he said.

Workers have been toiling around the clock in 12-hour shifts since the cleanup began earlier this month. So far, they’ve cleared roughly half of the 90,000* cubic yards of muddy debris.

They’ve also discovered that the slide carried away more than 600 feet of the highway’s asphalt.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

* Correction, May 21, 2014: This article originally incorrectly described the site where dirt is being dumped and the quantity of the debris.

Talk to us

More in Local News

King County map logo
Tribal members dance to start an assemble on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day Friday evening at Tulalip Gathering Hall in Tulalip, Washington on September 30, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
‘Still here’: Tulalip boarding school descendants celebrate resilience

On Orange Shirt Day, a national day of remembrance, the Tulalip Tribes honored those who suffered due to violent cultural suppression.

Councilmember Megan Dunn, left, stands next to County Executive Dave Somers as he presents his 2023 budget proposal to her, Councilmember Nate Nehring and Councilmember Sam Low. (Snohomish County)
As County Council begins budget talks, here’s how you can weigh in.

Department heads will make their pitches in the next few days. Residents will get a say at a forum and two hearings this month

Representative Rick Larsen speaks at the March For Our Lives rally on Saturday, June 11, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Larsen to hold community meeting in Everett on Monday

The veteran Democratic lawmaker will address recent legislation passed by Congress and other topics.

Everett
Everett gets state Auditor’s Office stewardship award

State Auditor Pat McCarthy presented the award during the most recent Everett City Council meeting.

(Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest - US Forest Service)
U.S. 2 reopens east of Index as Bolt Creek wildfire moves north

The highway was blocked off earlier this week as the fire spread.

FILE - Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks during a news conference the vote to codify Roe v. Wade, in this May 5, 2022 file photo on Capitol Hill in Washington. Murray is one of the U.S. Senate's most powerful members and seeking a sixth term. She is being challenged by Tiffany Smiley, a Republican from Pasco, Wash. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
Providence continues to face questions about hospital debt collection

The hospital group has pushed back against the notion that Providence “intentionally takes advantage of those who are vulnerable.”

Vehicles exiting I-5 southbound begin to turn left into the eastbound lanes of 164th Street Southwest on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Traffic backups on 164th Street near I-5 could see relief soon

The county and state are implementing a new traffic signal system that synchronizes the corridor and adjusts to demand.

Anthony Christie with his son (Family photo)
‘Senseless’: Mom sues state DOC after son’s suicide at Monroe prison

The lawsuit alleges systemic failures at the Monroe Correctional Complex led to Anthony Christie’s death in 2019.

Most Read