The reopening of State Route 530 was met with mixed reaction in Darrington and Oso: relief among those who consider the highway a lifeline, but concern that the unstable slope could close the road again or worse, turn into a major landslide.
WSDOT announced the road had reopened around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, five days after a slow-moving landslide shut down SR 530 to all traffic.
On Wednesday evening, Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar and WSDOT geologists made the trip to Darrington, to hear concerns from residents.
Millar spoke at Darrington's Town Council meeting, which was moved to the Darrington Community Center to accommodate a larger than normal crowd.
Millar said he knows how important State Route 530 is to the community. During the closure, anyone who needed to travel between Darrington and Arlington had to use a detour that added at least one hour to a one-way trip.
"Believe me, I understand that highway is your lifeline, so it wasn't something we took lightly," said Millar. "Our responsibility is to provide you with transportation access, but our responsibility is also to keep the folks who use our roads safe."
He said that the slow-moving slide located about 300 feet above State Route 530 covers 24 acres of land. If it were to fail all at once, the slide could cover SR 530, jump the river, and potentially reach homes on Whitman Road.
But that concern doesn't go away now that the road is back open.
"One of the questions I got was can you make it come down now, so we don't have to worry about it? No. Another question was can you build something to stop it from coming down? The short answer to that is no. But what we can do is continue to monitor the area," Millar said.
WSDOT geologists will be closely monitoring the slide area and say they will close the highway again if significant ground movement is detected.
Those in the crowd at Wednesday's meeting had plenty of other questions as well.
"What is the long-term plan to take care of Darrington residents if something catastrophic happens again?" one woman asked.
Robin Youngblood, who survived the March 2014 landslide that killed 43 people in Oso, wanted to know what WSDOT was doing to prevent another major landslide.
The new, slow-moving slide is less than two miles from the site of the 2014 Oso landslide.
"Are you in contact with geologists in other areas, to find out what they've learned and what their experience is?" Youngblood asked.
Dayn Brunner, who lost his sister, Summer Raffo in the 2014 slide, thanked WSDOT for shutting down SR 530 during this recent event.
"I know it's a major inconvenience that the road is closed. It's a pain for everyone, businesses, and community members," said Brunner. "But I for one appreciate the steps WSDOT took, so other families don't have to live through what we lived through."
Brunner's comment was met with applause from those in attendance at Darrington Town Council.
WSDOT also encouraged people in Oso and Darrington to help geologists monitor other steep slopes in the landslide-prone Stillaguamish Valley.
"Don't become complacent. If you're seeing slopes moving and things like that, you should call us. Don't just say 'well that slope moves all the time and that's just the way it is.' You should let us know, and geologists will come out," said WSDOT.
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