On Friday, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources announced it has put the auction of timberlands near the site of the Oso landslide on hold.
In light of what the communities surrounding Oso have endured, I've directed department staff to review all the information on this nearby timber sale before moving forward, said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark.
It's news that families who live down-slope of that land are relieved to hear, but they also want to know why the decision wasn't made sooner.
I just fear that clear cutting such a large area, on such a steep part of that mountain,I think that's just very risky, and we just don't feel like we would want to take that risk, said Jim Pritzl.
He owns 20 acres off LakeRiley Road, just a few hundreds yards from the slope that would be harvested for timber.
The 188-acre timber sale known as Riley Rotor was scheduled for auction on April 23, 2014.
Pritzl feels the DNR's 11th hour decision to halt the auction is purely political. The Seattle-based watchdog group, Washington Forest Law Center, agrees.
The non-profit organization works to enforce forest practice regulations to protect people, wildlife, and land.
Director and manager attorney Peter Goldman told KING5 that the organization wrote a letter to the DNR in December of 2013, asking the DNR to withdraw the Riley Rotor timber sale, due to high hazard areas and risks to the homes directly down-slope.
The DNRdenied that request to withdraw the sale on January 29th of 2014. Less then two months later, theOso landslide took place just a few miles away.
Goldman then sent an email to the DNR on March 25th, asking the DNR to reconsider withdrawing the timber sale in light of what happened in Oso. On April 15th, the DNRagain denied the request.
Then, just three days later, on April 18th the DNR appeared to have a change of heart. That's when it announced the Riley Rotor timber sale would be deferred.
KING5 asked the DNR the reason behind the change in its stance on this issue.
A spokesperson for DNR released the following statement in response:
The Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark asked for one more expert opinion from someone who had not yet been involved in reviewing the sale. That expert advised, given the circumstances, that additional review would be prudent. Based on that recommendation, Commissioner Goldmark made the decision to postpone the sale.
Pritzl knows it's not a permanent fix, but says he'll take it, for now.
It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from us, he said. At least we don't have the worry that we're next.
While the DNR has ordered additional assessments of the Riley Rotor land, it's unclear how long that could take, or when the land could go back up for auction. No timeline has been set.