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WA Public Lands Commissioner Warns Of Landslide Risks, Urges State Legislators To Act

Elaine Thompson / File
AP Photo
In this March 25, 2014, file photo, a flag stands in the ruins of a home left at the end of a deadly mudslide from the now-barren hillside visible about a mile behind in Oso, Wash.

Hillsides in Washington shaped by glaciers often provide stunning natural beauty that makes people want to live near them. They also come with a high risk of landslides, especially when logged.

The state Commissioner of Public Landstook to the slopes Thursday near Olympia to urge legislators to help state regulators minimize the hazards.

Standing at the top of a steep and windy road in the Capitol Forest near the town of McCleary, Commissioner Hillary Franz briefed reporters on her wish list. She said her first priority is doubling the 30-day period her department currently has to act on logging and road permits.   

“Since 2012 alone, we have seen a doubling of those applications, and we do not have the appropriate time and capacity and resources to be able to do the full analysis of the information we get in that application and then ensure that we can get on the ground and make sure that any activities on steep slopes will not lead to landslides,” Franz said.  

She says the 30-day limit was set in 1974 and often leads to unnecessary stress.

She’s also asking for money to hire two additional engineers and fund their work evaluating logging roads, to ensure they are built safely and don’t destabilize slopes.

Finally, her biggest ask is more than $1.5 million for geologists to drill into the site of the Oso Landslide and study the 50-square-mile corridor around state Rte. 530, so that they could apply lessons learned there to the 18 other counties in Washington that have similar geology.  

“We believe that understanding this situation and glacial, deep-seated landslides better, we will be much more able to protect the public health and safety,” she said.

Franz said it’s been more than 3 years since the Oso slide wiped out a neighborhood and killed 43 people, yet geologists still don’t fully understand what triggered it. A state commission recommended additional study of the 50-square-mile corridor around Rte. 530.

She also says a climate risk assessment prepared for the Department of Natural Resources and released earlier this month predicts there will be more frequent periods of heavy rainfall in Washington. That could lead to more landslides, as rainfall weakens unstable slopes.

The Oso slide occurred after heavy rains.

Franz says she has bipartisan support for her requests in both the state House and Senate.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to