When I look at the hear of the area covered by the slide, a neighborhood along Steelhead Road in an oxbow of the Stillaguamish River, I can see a neighborhood already familiar with the perils of living at the business end of nature.
Riverside living and the floods that go along with it is already ignoring the risk that you'll face floods every once in awhile. Living in an oxbow is just asking for floods.
So, asking why the county didn't do more to warn or move these people from the riveside or from below the slide area is asking a big question. It centers on the difference between the perspective of rural landowners and suburban and urban people that make up of Snohomish county civic life.
Plainly said, the people who run the county and the people who lived on Steelhead Road are the faces of two radically different parts of Cascadia. This is more than a traditional right/left or red/blue political and social divide. While in many ways it follows that dichotomy, it has its own Cascadian flavor to it.
And, the answer goes back to the founding of the non-native society out here. There are two major groups that put down early roots and still define much of our society: New England capitalists and Appalachian farmers (mostly from the Ohio Valley).
For much of our history out here, the New Englanders migrated to the urban Puget Sound. They founded timber companies, ran the Republican political machines and owned the newspapers. Before the Democratic surge in the 1930s that wiped away the Republican political advantage, these New Englanders were political life in Cascadia.
But, the Appalachians were always there. While they identified as Democrats nominally early on, they stuck to the well-spaced rural areas of the state. Their influence on our political culture has been the strain of what we'd now call libertarianism that stretches pretty far across our political spectrum. In the recent election returns on gay rights and marijuana (that included both rural and urban votes) and one recent local election for me, it is possible for this libertarian strain across both liberal and conservative politics in Cascadia to unite.
So, back to Snohomish County and the folks on Steelhead. What was it about our political origins that caused this tragedy?
...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.Take a simple look at it like this. Urban and suburban Snohomish County (and Cascadia) are the decedents of townie Republican New Englanders. They're business friendly and with a deep seeded civic mindedness that has sprouted a sense of environmentalism. That sense of doing what is right for the good of the community brought them to point out that slides happen were they do and to map flood areas.
“I think we did the best that we could under the constraints that nobody wanted to sell their property and move..."
But, the ability to do anything about it stopped where it became obvious that no one wanted to listen to them. The deep sense of individualism that came west with the Appalachians in Cascadia still rules the point of view, especially along the Stillaguamish River.
Sadly, one of the former political leaders on the Appalachian end of the spectrum likely died in the Oso mudslide.
Sure, it is possible to offer enough money to make anyone want to move. But, it isn't like Snohomish County had magic public funds growing fairy dust. And, when it came to spending that limited public money on someone that really didn't want to move in the first place. Well, you see where the attention of Snohomish civic leaders can be distracted.
Its easy to point to the available evidence and blame well intentioned people for not doing more. But, it is worth looking back at our origins here and seeing that it isn't simple.