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City plans actions on slide areas in Renton

The hillside on the northeast side of the Maple Valley Highway from the Renton Community Center to the Riverview Park is known as an historic location for slides in four areas. BELOW: Blue arrows point to where slides have occurred on the hillside next to State Route 169. - City of Renton
The hillside on the northeast side of the Maple Valley Highway from the Renton Community Center to the Riverview Park is known as an historic location for slides in four areas. BELOW: Blue arrows point to where slides have occurred on the hillside next to State Route 169.
— image credit: City of Renton

A number of Renton hillsides and slopes will hopefully get more careful and frequent inspection, after the landslide that swept through Oso in Snohomish County and because of a recent assessment of the potential hazard they pose in Renton.

The assessment calls for a number of actions private property owners and the city can do to protect citizens.

Gregg Zimmerman, the city’s public works administrator, led a “windshield tour” of the city’s areas to watch. The Renton City Council heard Zimmerman’s update on unsafe slopes and hillsides at its meeting Monday.

“I think the city and property owners have the responsibility to investigate situations where there are potential landslide hazards, particularly when such slides would pose a risk to safety and property,” said Zimmerman in an email.

He went through a list of at least 10 spots in Renton that need monitoring or upkeep.

Some of the targeted areas include 1700 Lake Washington Blvd. N.; Renton Hill above Narco, a former industrial site at the bottom of Renton Hill; Hardie Avenue, near Fred Meyer; Rainier Avenue, next to the airport; along Maple Valley Highway, and Maplewood Glen.

These areas were included because there are potential landslide hazards, including steep slopes and places where there is a history of landslides, said Zimmerman.

He used nearness of businesses and residences to assess the risk.

“While it is not always possible to eliminate risk, the city and property owners can and should take prudent steps to assess and then reduce the risk of landslides,” Zimmerman said in his presentation.

He said in an e-mail that the city intends to perform a geotechnical evaluation of the embankment along the Maple Valley Highway “to determine level of risk and potential remedial measures to further stabilize this slope.”

He pointed out that residential developments were built on top of the hill, there has actually been an improvement – less frequent and less severe slides, he said.

“This is because the storm water runoff is now collected in a closed-pipe system and is not allowed to percolate through the hillside,” he said.

City Council member Greg Taylor asked Monday night whose responsibility is it to get any geotechnical evaluations done – the city’s or the property owners.

Mayor Denis Law said it was up to the property owners to be responsible for their slopes or hillsides, if they’re on private land.

“We don’t want to have to take other actions and we’ll have to see what that might be,” Law said. “But we would hope that property owners are responsible and at least go that far.”

Zimmerman outlined a number of needs for these areas of Renton. His summary action plan includes writing property owners, completing periodic inspections, conducting geotechnical studies to determine if remedial action is needed and adding structures to strengthen the slope.

When council member Don Persson asked if the city had the legal right to go onto someone’s property and mitigate the situation, Law said it was debatable, but he didn’t want to go into all the possibilities now.

Law said that “with the our untrained eyes, we’re concerned now, but not really sure what the next step would be,” in terms of geotechnical evaluations.

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