The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Mike Baker, Craig Welch and Ken Armstrong, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Only two years before allowing people to build new homes near the Washington slope that collapsed last month, Snohomish County officials had explored taking the community in the opposite direction.

Concerned that a landslide there could “threaten life and property,” they considered buying up the properties and emptying much of the Steelhead Haven neighborhood.

The year was 2004, two years before a mudslide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River and threatened homes. The county Department of Public Works said a major slide could come down the Hazel slope, cross the river and inundate Steelhead Haven.

Purchasing the properties was the surest way to keep people safe, according to documents reviewed by The Seattle Times.

The costs “would be significant, but would remove the risk to human life and structures,” officials wrote in their analysis. Consultants had estimated the costs at $1.1 million for 75 parcels.

Public works officials also weighed the purchase of flood-prone residential properties at Chatham Acres, four miles upriver, for $1.9 million.

After considering the options, Snohomish County officials recommended the Chatham purchases but decided instead to stabilize the base of Hazel slope and leave the residents alone.

After the 2006 mudslide that blocked the North Fork and pushed into Steelhead, crews built a wall to prevent the river from cutting into the base of the slide hill.

While a county official has said the fatal slide was unforeseen, the county’s own 2004 documents show otherwise.

The county’s analysis and recommendation to focus on slope stabilization were approved by the Snohomish County Council and county executive in February 2004.

In May 2006, the county provided permits to allow new home building in Steelhead Haven, and four properties were constructed.

Eight people in those newer homes are dead or missing from the landslide, including four children.

Several current and former Steelhead Drive residents said they don’t recall ever being told the county more than a decade ago had worried enough about landslide risks to consider buying some landowners out.

“If I’d known it was that dangerous, I would have moved in a heartbeat,” said Dale Dunshee, who sold his property about three years ago to Irvin and Judith Wood, of Bothell. The Woods were not in the Oso area the weekend of the slide.

A furious Davis Hargrave, a retired architect who lost dozens of neighbors and his weekend dream home to the March 22 slide, said knowing the county took the threat so seriously would have prompted him to ask many more questions.

“We are not a bunch of stupid people ignoring warnings,” he said. “We all make risk assessments every day of our lives. But you cannot make a risk assessment on information you do not have.”

Rich Sewell, who spent nearly 40 years in Steelhead Haven until his family sold the property in 2007, said he never heard the county thought the threat was severe. But he also said he’s not sure how he — or some of his other neighbors — would have responded.

“I don’t know if everyone would have accepted a buyout,” he said. “I enjoyed growing up there. It’s where I proposed to my wife. It would still have been a tough call.”

At the Chatham Acres neighborhood, homeowners had spent years with the river encroaching and were willing to sell. In the end, the federal government largely provided the money needed to acquire the threatened properties.

Before 2004, the county began considering buying properties deemed at risk from floods or landslides as it updated its Stillaguamish River Comprehensive Flood Hazard Management Plan.

Public works officials based some of their analysis on a 2000 report by the firm GeoEngineers that said the Hazel slope posed “significant risk to human lives and private property.”

This report outlined various options, including moving the river to the south by 900 feet and buying properties in that path, or moving the river 2,000 feet south and essentially evacuating Steelhead.

GeoEngineers ultimately recommended moving the river 500 feet, away from the base of the slide area, and buying far fewer properties, all but one of them vacant or undeveloped.

The firm doubted that all the property owners — some of whom had lived there for years — would be willing to sell.

County officials considered the 900-foot option but eventually settled for reinforcing the slope. They did not commit to even the partial buyout suggested in the engineering report.

The properties are still privately owned.

Even if the county had gone with the 900-foot option, as geologists had proposed years earlier, the huge mudslide still would have taken lives and flattened homes.

It plowed across the river and buried the Steelhead Haven community, ending more than double the 900-foot distance cited in one expert’s “most likely” scenario for a major slide.

Officials in Snohomish County did not return calls Wednesday.

Peter Hahn, director of Public Works in Snohomish County when the buyout plan was considered, said he did not recall the issue.

Meg Moorehead, who was the county’s section manager on watershed planning and flood analysis, said she did not recall the discussion.

Marcus Yam/Seattle Times/MCT


Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

Kevin Bacon, right, in "The Following"

The aftermath of the August 8, 2022 search of the Mar-a-Lago club, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, isn’t the first showdown between the FBI and a cult leader.

The Following, a 2013 Fox Pictures series, played out in similar fashion. Three seasons was enough for the producers and it’s been nine years since our introduction to Joe Carroll, English professor-novelist-serial killer, so there’s a spoiler risk -- but not enough to prevent the comparison.

Keep reading... Show less
{{ }}