One of the questions with the Oso disaster that people are asking now is why did we let it happen? We knew that the hill was in danger, and yet people were allowed to live below it. Emmitt tries to tackle that with a bit of a historical perspective. And as is often times the case when he does a historical overview, the early settlers to the area from New England and from the Appalachian region play a large part.
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.
I don’t know how much we can to do to prevent these sorts of things as long as we’ve decided that the government is going to enforce property rights (something I’m generally for), and it has limited funds. Maybe there isn’t a way. I mean if the state took money out of education, or whatever, to pay to move some people who chose to live in dangerous places (and there must be thousands of dangerous places across the state), or if the county took money away from fire or police protection, people would rightly scream bloody murder.
None of this is to take anything away from the rescue efforts or to say that this was what they had coming, of course. As a liberal, I think we’re all in this together; as a human, I have nothing but sympathy. And as someone who lives in the city of Seattle where the next big one is overdue, I know it’s only a matter of time before I or my neighbors need the same sort of help. And nowhere is perfectly safe. Still, the tough decisions about how we minimize the damage from future events haven’t suddenly become as clear as we might like.