UPDATE: Deparment of Natural Resources Blog describes the slide, both in scientific and layman’s terms. Good read:
Thanks to Joe Breskin for forwarding me the link.
During the last ten years, many people here in Jefferson and Clallam County have struggled to craft an updated set of rules to help protect homeowners, ourselves and the environment around us. Part of that job was to set limits on development, which included buffers around dangerous places or those that we want to protect from exploitation. Some of those included buffers from development along shorelines. These teams of people decided, after long debate, to expand those buffers, because of newer science. As the public found out about them, the meetings where these new rules were brought for debate, were filled with angry people. Many shouted that who were these people to decide if they could or couldn’t build in a certain place.
Yesterday, nature gave a lesson to all of us on bluff ecology. And perhaps now we can silence the critics that say that we should not put large buffers around shorelines. For many on Whidbey, their lives will never be same, as apparently there is no insurance for this kind of thing happening to your home. Luckily for some, it was their vacation home. For others, it likely represented the bulk of their wealth, perhaps money they were hoping would help them in their old age. Many of the homes did not look like mansions but smaller places like in a subdivision of the 70s.
The positive part of this, is that bluff erosion is a pretty well known science now, and it explains shoreline buildup along certain places, such as the beaches at the Port Townsend Fort Worden lighthouse. The sluffing bluffs replenish sand and dirt into the Sound. By doing a little Google Search (Or Bing if you are so inclined) you can find out more.
Looking at the aerial shots, it’s clear that the people living on these bluffs chose to plant grass, rather than native plants. Also you can see black pipes used to drain water off the slope. These are the kind of things that add weight and water to the slope, and can actually help cause the very thing that people are trying to avoid.
There is no “blame” in this situation. The Counties are usually doing a much better job of buffer setting these days, and most of these kinds of houses are grandfathered. The hope is that the bank won’t sluff. However it was clear that these homeowners might have benefited from better education on the issue, as it is easy to see the grass lawns that extend out to the bluff edge. This is not a recommended idea, and can actually make the situation worse as grass retains water, needs more water (that can overload the bluff) and also often gets lawn poisons put on it that end up in the water below, killing fish. These days, the recommendation is to plant native plants that live on bluff edges, and that need less water.
Here in Jefferson County, if you live on a bluff, and want to find out what the *right* way to plant to avoid this kind of debacle (and even then, you might not, as an earthquake triggered sluff of the bank could be greater than any prevention), you can go to the newly installed County Watershed Stewardship Resource Center, and get educational information on issues such as this. Check out their website.
It is a part of the Puget Sound geology, a legacy of the glacier that formed this area: Massive chunks of shoreline hillsides just slide off. Early Wednesday morning, just such a 1000-foot-wide swath fell off in the Ledgewood Beach development on the west side of this island. The slide was so powerful, it pushed one home at the bottom of the cliff some 200 feet out into the water, said Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Hartin, and it took out 300 to 400 feet of Driftwood Way, the road that led to the shoreline. Erik Lacitis reports.
Whidbey landslide: ‘Where I had been standing was no longer there’