Snohomish County eyes ban on building in slide areas

Official to propose 6-month moratorium today

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SEATTLE — A Washington state county council will consider an emergency moratorium on development in areas at risk of landslides.

Dave Somers, president of the Snohomish County Council, said he’ll propose a vote on the six-month ban at a council meeting today.

Somers, who was in Arlington on Tuesday during President Barack Obama’s visit to the site of the March 22 mudslide, said the moratorium would apply to new construction throughout the county within a half-mile of landslide hazard areas mapped by the county. The March mudslide occurred in Snohomish County.

The ban would not halt projects that have already received building permits, Somers said. The moratorium would give the county time to do a more detailed assessment of landslide risks and develop new policies if needed, he said.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said he supported the move.

“Step one is the county should put a halt to building there” in landslide areas, Larsen said. Then the county should step back, update its maps of slide-prone areas, and review whether its development regulations and warnings for homeowners in such areas can be strengthened.

Somers said that before the Oso disaster, the county had been in the midst of updating its rules on building in environmentally sensitive areas. But he said the focus had been more on flood plains and agricultural land, not landslides.

“Frankly, this issue wasn’t on the radar screen,” Somers said. “We have to re-look at that.”

The hillside that gave way and destroyed the Steelhead Drive community near Oso had experienced numerous slides over the years. But geologists were surprised by the size and speed of the slide.