How to Rebuild a Highway When Landslide Recovery Keeps On, Slowly

By Sara Lerner - KUOW

At least 39 people have been killed in the landslide that hit the tiny community of Oso. It’s been a month. The rescuers are still trying to find the last four people who are missing. And locals are trying to deal with the closure of Highway 530.

Wash. Department of Transportation engineers and administrators are listening. And they’re taking comments, trying to answer every question- and they’re telling people Highway 530 is probably not going to be back until the fall.

The meetings – like Wednesday night’s in Arlington- have plenty of passion.

McGlothern: "I just want to know why it’s going to take ‘til fall to open this road up."

Dave McGlothern has a horseshoeing business, with clients- and buddies- up and down Highway 530. He’s been out helping with the search since the slide came down. McGlothern It’s an emergency situation. Darrington cannot survive with the truckers having to drive around the long way.

Hampton Lumber Mills is the largest employer in Darrington. For now, the trucks full of logs are driving on State route 20: it’s a long way around.

Lenora Eng is a regional administrator with Wash-dot. She’s at the podium in Arlington. She says removing the debris has to take time.

End: "It is a very slow process. We’re using smaller equipment, so that at every scoop it’s looked at because it is part of a recovery effort. We don’t need to get into the gruesome parts of it but it is something that is of value to the family members. We still have missing people."

Gruesome. That’s about all anyone will say publicly. The terrible truth behind this is that human remains are still in the pile.

And even when the last remaining victims are identified - it doesn’t mean crews will be able to simply go in and bulldoze. More human remains will likely still be in the pile. Removing the debris that’s left will still continue at a bucket by bucket pace.

Some residents like Dave McGlothern, who spoke out at the meeting, don’t believe there are bodies there- on the road. He’s recovered bodies on other parts of the slide. He thinks the officials just don’t get the urgency on rebuilding 530.

But Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin is okay with the timeline.

Rankin: "The recovery: that is the thing that is the most sensitive and we make progress every day. Some days we don’t find somebody but the progress is still made. That needs to continue and nothing else really matters other than that."

Wash-DOT does have some options for helping people temporarily- it’s just that it won’t help those big logging trucks. Soon- possibly even as soon as next week – an access road that used to just be used by Seattle city Light- could open up to traffic, only for locals.

Wash-DOT is working out a system to let cars go every half-hour. A pilot car would lead the way - it’s a very rough road. There are still obstacles in the way of that plan- like getting the go-ahead from the recovery operation. And- getting permission from some of the landowners along that road.

Meanwhile, there are other important plans –most of which discussion is tabled for later. Like what about a memorial along the rebuilt highway? Mayor Rankin says it’s important to immortalize the event and the people affected by it. And he says there are so many great ideas.

Some of them are as simple as they want to see their mailboxes there again. Just little things that remind us of - that there was a community and a neighborhood there once upon a time. Rankin says a memorial will come- for sure. It’s just a ways down the road.

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