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Only one slide warning issued in Oso; county considered buying out homes on Steelhead Drive


It turns out Snohomish County officials were very worried that Steelhead Haven, the neighborhood that now lies buried under as much as 70 feet of mud, was too dangerous for homes.

Seven years ago, after a slide in 2006, Snohomish County’s Planning Department prepared an official warning notifying residents along Steelhead Drive they were living in a potentially hazardous area.

But property records reviewed by KING show that the warning was issued exactly once, and then, to only one homeowner.

The rest of the residents of Steelhead Drive, including survivor Davis Hargrave, were told nothing.

“What I think is, there is a failing of the system here somewhere. They should figure out what happened, why it happened, and how they should fix it so it doesn’t ever happen again,” said Hargrave.

The reason it happened was that warnings are only required when someone applies for a building permit and the only person to do that after the 2006 slide was landowner Irvin Wood, who declined to be interviewed.

Wood and his wife bought a manufactured home and needed the permit to move it onto the Steelhead Drive property.

But other residents, like Davis Hargrave, said they were never warned, and that in fact work continued on seven homes that were under construction at the time the notice was drawn up.

That’s not all: The Seattle Times reports that as far back as 2004, the county considered buying out most of the homes in two neighborhoods near Oso.

The county approved to buying out a development four miles upriver called Chatham Acres, at a cost of $1.9 million, most of it from the federal government.

But a proposal to evacuate Steelhead Haven, at a cost of $1.1 million, and move the development another 900 feet from the hillside, was abandoned after a report concluded that many of the residents would refuse to sell. Instead the county decided just to stabilize the slope.

But the Times also reports that the Oso slide ended up being far larger than the engineers predicted, and that even the area they considered safe at the time ended up being inundated.

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