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Earth Science

Geologists Warned of Washington State Mudslides For Decades 230

Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "The Seattle Times reports that since the 1950s, geological reports on the hill that buckled last weekend, killing at least 17 residents in Snohomish County in Washington State, have included pessimistic analyses and the occasional dire prediction. But no language seems more prescient than what appears in a 1999 report filed warning of 'the potential for a large catastrophic failure.' Daniel Miller, a geomorphologist, documented the hill's landslide conditions in a report written in 1997 for the Washington Department of Ecology and the Tulalip Tribes. Miller knows the hill's history, having collected reports and memos from the 1950s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s and has a half-dozen manila folders stuffed with maps, slides, models and drawings, all telling the story of an unstable hillside that has defied efforts to shore it up. That's why he could not believe what he saw in 2006, when he returned to the hill within weeks of a landslide that crashed into and plugged the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, creating a new channel that threatened homes on a street called Steelhead Drive. Instead of seeing homes being vacated, he saw carpenters building new ones. 'Frankly, I was shocked that the county permitted any building across from the river,' says Miller. 'We've known that it's been failing. It's not unknown that this hazard exists.'" (More, below.)
"The hill that collapsed is referred to by geologists with different names, including Hazel Landslide and Steelhead Haven Landslide, a reference to the hillside's constant movement. After the hill gave away in 1949, in '51, in '67, in '88, in 2006, residents referred to it simply as 'Slide Hill.' 'People knew that this was a landslide-prone area,' says John Pennington. Geomorphologist Tracy Drury said there were discussions over the years about whether to buy out the property owners in the area, but those talks never developed into serious proposals. 'I think we did the best that we could under the constraints that nobody wanted to sell their property and move.'"
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Geologists Warned of Washington State Mudslides For Decades

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 29, 2014 @08:30AM (#46609019)

    And still not much is being done to stop it. Wait 30 years and you'll see this same article here, only referencing global warming.

  • Muh freedoms! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 29, 2014 @08:38AM (#46609035)

    "I wanna build that wood-made doll house on the side of the collapsing hill, on a shore of a constant tide, at the bottom of a restless avalanche, in the way of a hundred hurricanes, next to an ever-flooding river, at the feet of a volcano! And you ain't gonna stop me!"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 29, 2014 @09:20AM (#46609153)

    As a tech working in Southern California with a B.A. in Geology, I can tell you that most geologic reports that are prepared are typically all but ignored by developers, leading to many problems down the road, and occasional tragedies such as this. I know of a large building built in the San Andreas Fault Zone that did not have the proper footings in place, and has sunk as a result (not from any earthquake, but from the nature of the fractured strata beneath the site), costing more taxpayer money to save it (this being a state institution).

    Geologist warnings serve more to set insurance rates then to avoid issues, and many lives have been lost, and will be lost as a result. Geologist by the nature of their science look at the land in terms of what will happen over time, while Developers are concerned with only if their investment will pay off in the short term, assuming the added risk as just an increase in insurance costs taken from their bottom lines.

  • Re:'Murica! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @09:25AM (#46609167)

    > Jokes aside, I never understood why people live in KNOWN dangerous places.

    Because it's only one factor. Farmers value the fertile land where floods deposit soil, and it's rarely feasible to live very far from the farm. Traders value the shipping made easier by river or ocean traffic near river heads, but those are likely flood areas. Damming and irrigation and dikes can actually _change_ the shape of the flood plain, making formerly safe areas profoundly more dangerous. Industries rely on the river water or hydro-electric power, and long commutes to work are a subtle tax on every worker's time every day.

    Would you pay double the price of your current home, or apartment, to live in a safer place further from your work? Could you afford it?

  • Beach houses (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 29, 2014 @10:09AM (#46609349)

    When it comes to beach houses, nothing can be done to protect them from hurricanes. But people still build huge homes there. A hurricane comes by and wipes them out, the President declares a disaster area, government (taxpayers) pays to rebuild - rinse and repeat.

    See, the wealthy people who own beach houses also have the political clout to get us peons to pay for their luxuries.

    What we need is to just say, "Sorry, you build on the beach and your house gets smashed by a hurricane, tough shit. Eat it."

  • Re:Muh freedoms! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 29, 2014 @10:48AM (#46609549)

    Basically, yes. Throw in a dash of the "government is doing it", and you've pretty much captured the sentiment that many people have when told they are proposing to build in a dangerous place. Often, they already own the land, and will complain bitterly about the loss of their investment if they are later told how dangerous the location is.

    As a geologist, I'm mostly fine with people building where they want when it comes to risks. As long as: A) you sign a declaration and submit it to the local government indicating that you have been informed of and accept all of the risks inherent to that very dangerous site; B) that such a declaration be attached to the deed and any bill of sale so that if the property is transferred to someone else they will know of and be bound by the same terms; C) you're on your own when it comes to getting house and other property insurance; and D) you pay into some kind of private emergency rescue fund rather than expecting government emergency personnel to put their lives at risk trying to get you out of there when it all goes bad.

    No taxpayer-funded bailouts for that kind of informed, free, but stupid choice.

    Alternatively, people could be rational about it and not build there, but if they insist on not being rational about it, then they should be forced to do so on their own dollar.

    This is not to diminish the feelings about the losses in this tragic case, but if people were well-informed about the risks and built there anyway, they have to live with the consequences. And if they weren't well-informed, then heads should roll.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 29, 2014 @10:58AM (#46609611)

    The stupidity of a bunch of people that believe academics can afford better publicity people than oil companies is amazing. This is exactly the same thing. The geologist states facts once and thinks it's settled. The housing developers have a staff of people who keep asking different officials uni they find one who listens. Then they keep commissioning secret reports until they find a tame "expert" land slide denialist. When they find this person they pay a huge amount more to publish the report.

    These are people who are killing people for money. Even of the denialist "expert" is an idiot who never realises what he's done, the industrialist behind him knows exactly what is going on. What should we do?

  • by rabtech ( 223758 ) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @11:02AM (#46609629) Homepage

    So, if someone said to you, "your house is likely to catch fire in the future", and then your house caught fire 15 years later, you'd be thinking "damnit! I was warned this would happen, I should have listened to that guy 15 years ago and moved"??"

    if that person said it would catch fire in the future because of faulty wiring (or something else) then i'd fix the wiring.

    Ah, the arguments of the willfully ignorant. I wish I were still a conservative. No nuances, no questions. Everything had a trite simple answer.

    Reality does not so neatly fit into a box.

    House fires happen rapidly. They are also largely preventable. And even though one person's house fire may be a tragedy, pouring water on it puts out the fire. (Remember kids: the fire department exists to prevent your house fire from burning down the rest of the city, not to save your house)

    Mudslides, like earthquakes, are triggered by complex conditions that are not knowable by humans in advance (with any degree of certainty). They also cannot be prevented or controlled. There is no "Mudslide Department" because there is no response. By the time you find out about it, the mudslide is over and the damage is done.

    This case is very simple to explain: no one wants to be the person who "wastes" taxpayer dollars buying out homeowners and tearing down houses when the potential disaster can strike anywhere between tomorrow and 50 years from now. So county officials, housing developers, and maybe to some degree homeowners all chose to ignore the report and get on with their lives. That works great, right up until the moment when everyone died.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 29, 2014 @12:42PM (#46610071)


    The existence of the greenhouse effect was argued for by Joseph Fourier in 1824. The argument and the evidence was further strengthened by Claude Pouillet in 1827 and 1838, and reasoned from experimental observations by John Tyndall in 1859, and more fully quantified by Svante Arrhenius in 1896.

    In 1917 Alexander Graham Bell wrote “[The unchecked burning of fossil fuels] would have a sort of greenhouse effect”, and “The net result is the greenhouse becomes a sort of hot-house.” Bell went on to also advocate for the use of alternate energy sources, such as solar energy.

    Try centuries i.s.o. decades.

  • Re:Muh freedoms! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dkf ( 304284 ) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Saturday March 29, 2014 @01:08PM (#46610233) Homepage

    One tricky part there, people have children.

    What's tricky about it? If they're so stupid that they're willing to put their children in that sort of danger, the children are likely to have inherited the lack of basic intelligence and foresight. Good Darwinian principles suggests that culling the herd in that sort of situation is reasonable; no action is needed beyond telling the parents "I told you so" after the fact if they survive, before suggesting that this indicates that they'd be best off getting sterilised for the good of the rest of humanity.

    Go on, rub it in.

  • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Saturday March 29, 2014 @04:58PM (#46611435) Homepage

    Odd, I thought that they'd been claiming that the end of the world would be coming every 10 years for the last 30 years.

    That's because instead of listening to the predictions, you waved your hands without even knowing what the predictions were.

    I can pretty much find that in literature easily enough, including that: No glaciers by 2000, no snow falls by 2000, and 2010 in europe, no polar ice caps, and a whole pile of other things.

    What you failed to realize is that those were not the predictions of mainstream climate science, but of wackos were paraded in front of you as straw men. I call you on your bullshit and invite you to look up that "literature."

  • by KeensMustard ( 655606 ) on Sunday March 30, 2014 @05:45AM (#46613877)
    You've misunderstood. I'm not interested in generalities and vague allegation. You've made some specific assertions, which is good, becuase now you get to prove each one, in detail, quoting the relevant text from a scientific journal:

    1. You claimed "that the end of the world would be coming every 10 years for the last 30 years." Cite this claim specifically

    2. You claimed to have citation stating there would be "No glaciers by 2000" Cite this.

    3. " no snow falls by 2000 and 2010 in europe," Cite this from peer reviewed material

    4. no polar ice caps - provide this citation (Noting that it must be for both poles and must predict that would be no polar ice caps before 2014 to qualify per your criteria).

    I particularly like the ones on no glaciers in the Himalayas, that were based on no evidence by Greenpeace, with no scientific data.

    Your mistake. This doesn't qualify as an example of scientific literature (get a full understand of the composition of AR4 before mouthing off next time, moron), and they (the authors of the piece) didn't say "no glaciers in the himalayas" they made reference to one glacier completely disappearing. In an opinion piece.

    Now get on with it.

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