Oso homeowners, commuters voice concerns

Owen Carter, deputy director of Snohomish County Public Works, and Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert address attendees of an April 30 community meeting on the fallout of the March 22 Oso slide. - Kirk Boxleitner
Owen Carter, deputy director of Snohomish County Public Works, and Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert address attendees of an April 30 community meeting on the fallout of the March 22 Oso slide.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — Snohomish County and Washington State Department of Transportation officials again met with area residents at the Stillaguamish Senior Center on Wednesday, April 30, to update them on the fallout of the March 22 Oso slide.

Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert opened the meeting by assuring attendees that their input from the April 16 meeting had been noted, while Linda Neunzig of the Northwest Agriculture Business Center informed farmers that the U.S. Department of Agriculture can help restore their lands to pre-disaster conditions through their Emergency Conservation Program and Livestock Indemnity Program.

Applicants should document the numbers of hours they’ve worked fencing, clearing debris and had hired help laboring on their behalf, as well as provide pictures and birth records of all their animals.

Owen Carter, deputy director of Snohomish County Public Works, assured the public that geologists are continuing to monitor the site of the slide for movement, of which there hasn’t been any, aside from some sloughing. Although he explained that what’s being called the “pilot channel” of the post-slide Stillaguamish River had been widened and deepened, he admitted that the ultimate course that the river will take remains unpredictable, which is why hydrologists are developing models to map out its possible shifts.

WSDOT Chief Construction Engineer Linea Laird entered the fray when Carter commented about possibly raising State Route 530 between 10-20 feet, inspiring some considerable ire from homeowners alongside the highway, who already fear their lands are unsaleable as it is, without their access ways to and views of the surrounding landscape being blocked. Laird emphasized how nebulous their current plans are, and introduced WSDOT Region Administrator Lorena Eng to break down the three phases of developments that are set to happen next.

“The first is that we’ve secured a contract with Granite Construction to maintain and operate the Seattle City Light maintenance road for access,” said Eng, who reiterated that one-lane traffic on the road would be directed by pilot cars, from Darrington to Arlington at the top of the hour, and from Arlington to Darrington on the half-hour. “The second is the removal of material from the roadway, which is buried 20-25 feet deep under debris.”

Eng hoped that process would require no more than a month, but acknowledged that this will depend on what sort of personal and/or hazardous materials are found in the debris.

“The third, of course, is to restore State Route 530 to being a two-way highway within the quickest amount of time possible,” Eng said. “To facilitate that process, we’ll be hiring a design-builder, so instead of the architectural design and the construction happening in separate stages, they’ll take place simultaneously.”

Eng reported that eight parties have already submitted applications, which will be narrowed down to four who will submit project proposals, including details such as what their construction methods will be, and how they’ll maintain the current level of traffic during construction.

“We don’t have the luxury of observing the river for a year to see what it’ll do,” Eng said. “The proposals are due May 27, and we’ll select one by May 30, so that the construction can proceed on June 3. Our goal is to restore two-lane traffic on Highway 530 by October.”

Although Eng pledged to work with homeowners along State Route 530 to ensure that they retain access to the road, several still objected on aesthetic grounds, noting that an elevated road would diminish the views from their houses and make them even less attractive to prospective buyers.

A more pressing concern was voiced by a property owner who pointed out that they’re currently treated the same as out-of-towners when they try to gain access to their own homes, not only by having to wait in long lines for the access way, but also by being barred from entering their former homes. A system of passes was proposed, both for property owners and those whom they might hire to work on their property.

In the meantime, Laird asked for commuters’ patience, as WSDOT studies the emerging traffic patterns on its new access way, to determine if any adjustments need to be made.

“It’s not normal yet, but it’s one step closer to normal,” Laird said. “There are areas where it gets wider and narrower, and while you must maintain slow speeds, you can’t stop. Still, it’s been a very comfortable drive for me.”

Theresa Myklebust, employment specialist with WorkSource Mountlake Terrace, closed out the evening’s program by encouraging people to call 855-636-5610, option 1, to apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance before Monday, May 5.

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