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Landslide Safety All Over The Map In Washington

Jim Simon looks over the Ledgewood Beach bluff from the unmowed lawn of a condemned home on Whidbey Island.
John Ryan/KUOW
Jim Simon looks over the Ledgewood Beach bluff from the unmowed lawn of a condemned home on Whidbey Island.

The deadly Oso landslide in March sparked a debate over Snohomish County’s apparent failure to protect residents at the base of a known landslide zone.

But Washington state is dotted with landslide-prone slopes, and many counties and cities do less than Snohomish County to keep homes away from harm.

Most counties’ rules set buffers at 50 feet or less, although landslides often travel hundreds of feet. The Oso slide was an extreme case; it traveled more than 3,000 feet.

Joann Blalock lives near one of those hazardous slopes on Whidbey Island. Her home sits atop the Ledgewood Beach bluff, just south of the town of Coupeville, midway up the state’s longest island. The house itself sits 80 feet back from the bluff and its steep drop to Admiralty Inlet 200 feet below.

A 1,100-foot stretch of that bluff collapsed in March 2013. One home and a road in the Ledgewood Beach neighborhood were destroyed. Other homes had enough of their backyards disappear overnight that they had to be condemned.

"We chose after the slide to move back on the property about 20 feet," Blalock says. "I'm not afraid to live here, but I have a healthy respect for what nature can do."

Her neighborhood sits several miles outside Coupeville, where that construction – done without any geotechnical study of the ground's stability – would be illegal.

Coupeville's critical areas ordinance requires construction be set back at least 200 feet from a landslide hazard as tall as Ledgewood Beach's. Island County requires a 100-foot buffer. Continued... Read the complete story at KUOW.org.

Read and hear other stories from Oso by EarthFix partners KUOW and KCTS 9.

and collaborated to produce a series of profiles of people most affected by the landslide — a woman rescued from the mud, a couple who lost their home, a first responder struggling with post-traumatic stress, and leaders, municipal and spiritual, still working tirelessly for their community.

Copyright 2020 EarthFix. To see more, visit .

John Ryan, Tony Schick