SEATTLE -- A decade before a colossal landslide buried a Washington community, county officials considered buying up people's homes there to protect them from such a disaster.
A 2004 Snohomish County flood-management plan said the cost of purchasing properties in Oso "would be significant, but would remove the risk to human life and structures."
But documents show that after weighing options, the county instead recommended a project to stabilize the base of a nearby unstable slope.
It eventually built a 1,300-foot-long wall to reduce landslide and flood risks. But that wasn't enough to hold back the square mile of dirt, sand and silt that barreled down the mountain March 22, killing at least 30 people.
Some area residents and their family members say they knew nothing of the landslide dangers or home-buyout proposals.
The documents were first reported by The Seattle Times.
The 2004 report was titled the “Stillaguamish River Comprehensive Flood Hazard Management Plan”
The report also included an option for buying out flood prone properties in an area called Chatham Acres, four miles upriver from Steelhead Haven, for $1.9 million dollars. Steelhead Haven was essentially demolished by the slide.
Snohomish County Executive John Lovick, who took office ten months ago, told KING 5 that he hasn’t seen the 2004 report and remains focused on the victims and ongoing recovery effort.
Lovick’s Director of Communications, Rebecca Hover, later released a statement that county officials would not be granting any interviews about whether there was consideration in 2004 to buy out homes in the Steelhead Haven area:
“While we respect your requests for interviews with county officials on this topic, this is not the appropriate time for us to discuss this matter. Our efforts are focused on searching for victims and supporting grieving families during this difficult time,” said Hover.
Asked whether there should be a statewide review of other communities possibly at risk , Governor Jay Inslee said:
“There are quite a number of questions that will be asked and that is one of them. They are going to require a very in depth discussion and we are going to look into all kinds of questions of geology and zoning. Those are going to be appropriate questions. I have to stay today we are still involved in a full scale rescue effort, myself and other leaders have got to focus on that.”
According to numerous documents obtained by KING 5 through a public disclosure request, Snohomish County eventually purchased the entire Chatham Acres development, approximately 10 vacation homes, as part of a Flood Emergency Prevention Grant. The homes were removed and the site restored with native plants.