COUPVILLE, Wash. -- People impacted by the massive landslide that hit the south end of Whidbey Island 3-1/2 months ago may have to wait another two years before there is full access to their neighborhood.
County Public Works officials and geologists from the state Department of Natural Resources addressed a packed room of homeowners Tuesday afternoon.
Public Works director Bill Oakes told KING 5 News that the hillside in the Ledgewood neighborhood of Coupeville has been moving for thousands of years, calling it one of the biggest slides in Northwest history. He said the slide was brought on by heavy rains and the ongoing movement of the bluff.
In March, the massive slide destroyed one home, and left four others uninhabitable. Seventeen houses remain cut off from civilization, except for a primitive one-lane road put in as an emergency measure.
It has been a long 14 weeks of living in limbo for Joanna Bachman and her mom, Elsie.
”It's just gonna be bad,” said Joanna, who lives with her 84-year-old mother in the area cut off area.
The slide moved a quarter mile wide swath of land in just a few seconds. Some in the neighborhood believe the county may have played a part.
“It was certainly not an act of God,” said Arthur Nowell.
Nowell should know. He is a renowned University of Washington geologist and oceanographer who happens to own a home in the slide zone. He said the hillside hasn’t been draining properly for two years and believes poor county maintenance may have caused water to back up and make the entire slope unstable.
“To change it from an area 40 yards wide to an area 400 yards wide, it raises a significant question of ‘Did she move or was she pushed?’” he said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, state and county analysts told homeowners the county is not responsible and said the hillside has been sliding for thousands of years.
“I don't think there's anything we could've done to predict the size of this slide or to prevent a slide of this size,” said Oakes.
Oakes said it will likely be two years before the washed out road connecting those cut-off homes is replaced, if it's replaced at all. As it stands now, there is still no access for a fire truck and no mail delivery.
Neighbors also expressed concerns that the county may turn over liability for the emergency road that was carved out of a trail immediately following the slide to the homeowners association.
“If that happens,” said Joanna Bachman, “we’re responsible if someone gets in an accident. We didn’t build that road. It’s the county’s responsibility.”
Public Works Director Oakes said he will work with neighbors to try to find a solution.
Oakes said the cost for the catastrophe to Island County taxpayers so far is $400,000.