Franz Urges Action on Landslide Safety
January 18, 2018
Public safety package provides tools to better understand, minimize landslide hazards
Landslides and logging applications are increasing on Washington’s steep slopes. Today, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz called on the legislature to take three actions critical to protect people and landscapes from landslide hazards:
- Pass Senate Bill 6235, which, by requiring a pre-application review, doubles the statutory time allowed for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to evaluate applications to log on potentially unstable slopes,
- Fund engineers to analyze logging roads, ensuring they are built safely and do not destabilize hills,
- Fund studying and mapping of the Oso landslide and SR 530 corridor to determine the cause of the Oso landslide and help us identify landslide risks in 18 counties[i] with similar geology.
“We do not have the resources or tools we need to best safeguard the public from landslide risk,” said Commissioner Hilary Franz. “I am asking the Legislature to help the Department of Natural Resources minimize the risks landslides pose to our people and places.”
Currently, state law only gives DNR 30 days to evaluate logging and road permits on potentially unstable slopes – a statutory time frame that has not changed since 1974. This arbitrary time constraint, combined with the number of applications more than doubling since 2012, does not allow sufficient time for DNR to thoroughly review complex applications.
If done without proper oversight, logging and road construction can trigger or contribute to landslides.
“I will not put expediency over public safety,” said Commissioner Franz. “We must ensure that DNR geologists and foresters – and the public – have adequate time to review logging and road applications on forested slopes.”
“We’ve seen the devastating consequences when we fail to recognize the risks associated with the unique geology of our state,” said State Senator Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County. “Senate Bill 6235 is sensible and smart legislation that ensures DNR and the public has full information and time to thoroughly review activities on potentially unstable slopes.”
"As we manage land use in Washington, we need to know more about areas of potential landslides that will impact our safety, our infrastructure and our recreation areas. We also need to give scientists and the public more time to investigate how our activities will influence our lands," said Sean Yanity, Chairman of the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians.
A hearing on SB 6235 is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks.
Commissioner Franz put forth the funding requests in DNR’s October supplemental budget request to the legislature.
This includes funding to drill boreholes ($1,174,500, one-time cost) and hire geologists ($447,500 annually) to research, map and monitor the 50-square-mile SR 530 corridor. More than three years after the slide, the cause of the Oso landslide remains unknown.
An expert council prepared a Climate Risk Assessment for DNR that was released earlier this month. One of the key findings was more frequent periods of heavy rainfall during Washington’s rainy seasons. This is expected to lead to an increasing amount of landslides, as heavy rains further weaken unstable slopes.
A fact sheet about mapping and analyzing the SR 530 corridor is available here.
[i] The 18 counties are: Okanogan, Douglas, Chelan, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Clallam, Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King, Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Kitsap, Island, Jefferson, and San Juan