Skip to content

Widow of Oso mudslide victim urges state to take action

A woman whose husband died in the Oso landslide urged the state Forest Practices Board on Monday to enforce logging regulations and to let people know about the “dangerous creatures on our lands.”

“Nothing can prepare you for a loss like this,” said Deborah Durnell, whose husband Tom was buried by the landslide in their home on Steelhead Drive. “We owe it to every person who died to do all in our power to make sure logging regulations are adequate and that they are enforced.”

Durnell testified during a special all-day meeting Monday of the Forest Practices Board, which sets the standards for forest practices such as timber harvests. The board heard from several experts about the history and science behind landslides in the wake of the Oso mudslide, which left 41 people dead and two missing.

U.S. Geological Survey research scientist Jonathan Godt said the Oso landslide traveled “a remarkably far distance” of nearly a mile from the slope.

Geological maps show landslide activity was documented on that hill going back to the 1950s, with the most recent activity in 2006. Godt said an unusually wet spring likely contributed to the landslide. An earthquake has been ruled out as a factor, he said.

Godt estimated it would take years and several million dollars to answer key questions about the landslide, including why it traveled so far and the location of similar landslide deposits.

But Peter Goldman of the Washington Forest Law Center told reporters that he doubts it would take that long, or cost that much money. He said the more important question is whether there was logging in the recharge zone, and if that zone was put in the right place.

“Did we increase the risk of a catastrophic landslide by allowing logging in areas where we know water gets into the ground? That needs to be modeled in retrospective,” said Goldman.

Goldman later told the board it should adopt an emergency rule imposing a moratorium on logging near landslides.

Rob Kavanaugh, who worked on the Stillaguamish River Basin Plan more than two decades ago, said the people who lived in the area weren’t notified that they were living in a catastrophic slide area.

“My concern is public safety. There are 43 dead people, and something went wrong with your system that allowed them to be killed. And you haven’t identified what it is that you’re doing wrong,” Kavanaugh told the board during the public comment period.

There are about 51,000 landslides in Washington state, according to data presented at Monday’s meeting. Of those, about 11,000 are deep-seated landslides like the Oso landslide. Deep-seated landslides are typically large and occur on terrain with a long history of landslides.

“Landslides will always be a natural part of our landscape in the the Pacific Northwest, and we will always have impacts due to the wet weather and geology,” said Mark Doumit of the Washington Forest Protection Association.

“It’s time for a broader public discussion to inform people and keep them out of harms’ way,” he said.

TVW taped the meeting, watch it here.