Washington county backs off plan to limit building in mudslide zones

OLYMPIA Wash. Tue May 6, 2014 8:59pm EDT

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OLYMPIA Wash. (Reuters) - The Washington state county where a mudslide killed dozens of people in March has backed off a plan to temporarily ban home building in landslide-prone areas because of fears it would unduly dampen development, county officials said on Tuesday.    A proposed six-month ban was originally put forward by Snohomish County Council Chairman Dave Somers after the mudslide near the small community of Oso in which a rain-soaked hillside collapsed, destroying dozens of homes, wiping out a state highway and clogging a river. The slide killed 41 people and two are missing.    The proposed ban would have prevented the county from issuing new building permits to projects within a half-mile (800 meters) of hills deemed landslide-prone, a step that would have put most development in the county off limits, said Clay White, the county's planning and development services director.    In addition to retreating from the proposed building ban, the council on Monday also delayed for two weeks consideration of more limited restrictions on development in mudslide-prone areas, White said.    Among the steps the county could still take are increasing the required buffer between new homes and hillsides deemed risky as well as requiring more geological studies ahead of new projects in at-risk areas , White said.

Years before the landslide, some geologists had warned that the hill above the residential area in Oso could suffer a catastrophic collapse. Among them was Jim Miller, a geological engineer with GeoEngineers, who said his company prepared a 2001 report for a local Native American tribe that warned of a “significant risk to human lives and private property” at the slide site.    Building in the area spanned decades, but a number of the homes on a street devastated by the mudslide were built after the report.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)

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