530 project gets underway in effort to return normalcy to Oso

OSO, Wash. -- Road builders and archeologists came together Friday to begin removing a mountain of mud and debris from Highway 530 near Oso.

Not only is it an immense task that will finally re-connect Oso to Darrington, but archeologists are examining every scoop of debris for human remains and personal belongings.

Walk to the end of what remains of Highway 530 and you come to a 15-foot high wall of mud, dirt, downed trees, debris, and something else too.

"They're removing soil one scoop at a time," said Kevin Bartoy, a cultural resources specialist with WSDOT. "We have one pair of eyes - from a professional archeologist watching that soil that's removed to see if they can find any human remains, any personal belongings."

Then two more archeologists watch the debris in two later phases of its removal to a nearby landfill to make sure they've missed nothing. Somewhere in the debris are the missing remains of two people, and countless personal items. On Friday they found a book.

"I mean, you look at this devastation," said Bartoy, "and these little bits and pieces that are left there, and to get those back to family members I think is so important. That might be all they have left."

The force of the mudslide was so intense that the pavement on 530 was actually lifted up and moved farther south. Recovery crews found pavement with yellow lines painted on it in the rubble quite a distance past the old Highway 530.

One can fully understand this violence by looking at what this very roadway used to look like via Google Drive. Peaceful. Verdant. Beautiful.

To clear the road will take at least a month, says Bart Treece of WSDOT.

"This roadway clears about 90,000 cubic yards of material," Treece said. "It took 10,000 cubic yards of material for the concrete to build CenturyLink field. So you're looking at nine times of that, of all the material that's on the roadway and our roadway right of way that we need to clear off."

Rebuilding Highway 530 will be difficult. They'll design as they go.

"We know the importance of this," Treece said. "And we're working with the community to try to make them whole again, as much as possible."

The re-built Highway 530 will be ready for drivers by October.