Cities begin to take action in wake of 530 Mudslide

RENTON, Wash. - A small landslide created a big problem along one of Renton's main corridors.

Police closed the Maple Valley Highway near I-405 Sunday afternoon after a slide toppled a tree across two lanes of the highway.

But the far greater concern was a 100-foot cottonwood tree near the road. Public works crews decided to cut down the large tree, fearing the small slide Sunday morning may have weakened the soil.

"We want to play it safe. It's too close to the road," said Renton Public Works Administrator Gregg Zimmerman. "Since we can't be sure if it's at risk of falling, we need to take down the tree."

Zimmerman is among many city leaders who are closely examining landslide risks in the wake of the Oso disaster that claimed 43 lives.

"You might call it a wakeup call for everybody," Zimmerman said. "When you do have things like Oso happening, it is a reminder that these are things that shouldn't be on the back burner, because they're health and safety issues."

Before Sunday's slide and tree scare, Zimmerman ordered a survey of steep slopes throughout Renton. He is also reaching out to private property owners to make them aware of potential hazards, and what they can do to help reduce risk.

"We want to know if people have concerns and people have been calling us, and take a look ourselves and make sure that the slopes are stable to the extent we can," he said.

Seattle's director of emergency management is preparing to brief the city council on landslide dangers and prevention.

Barb Graff says Seattle has devoted a lot of resources to the issue for many years, but Oso certainly renews the emphasis on prevention.

"It puts us back out in the public again and people realize this is a high priority for the city," Graff said. "To make sure we're aware of landslide risk and we're doing everything possible to lessen the effects of landslide in our community."

She says landslide prevention is a team sport, with both the city and private property owners working together.

Homeowners can take steps to protect themselves, by making sure their property has adequate drainage. It's also important not to remove too much natural vegetation that can help stabilize slopes.

Graff will make a presentation to city councilors Monday.