Monday, May 15, 2017

Short Note on Irondale and Industrial Legacy

I previously noted the iron mining claims on Iron Mountain in Skagit County (hamilton-iron). The iron ore that was mined from a few of those claims was shipped via rail and then barge to Irondale, a small town south of Port Townsend (its-called-ironddale-a-for-reason).

I was recently a bit south of the site of the old iron works and unless one knew about the former industrial site it is hard to picture that this tree lined coast was once a heavy industrial site with piers and kilns. 

The kilns were located essentially on the beach. A cleanup of the site has been completed (see Ecology: Irondale Iron and Steel Plant). The former iron and steel mill is now a Jefferson County Park with a beach restoration project as well (gravelbeach.blogspot/irondale  and gravelbeach.blogspot/irondale). In addition to the iron and steel plant a large saw mill was located on the adjoining site to the north (right in the picture above).

The cleanup of the old industrial site and the cost to tax payers raises an interesting policy issue regarding industrial development that has presented a challenge to many communities. What happens to very specific industrial properties when the site is no longer used for that industry? Irondale is a bit of a lesson in this regards. The abandoned iron and steel along with some contamination remained vacant on this site for nearly 100 years. It is now a very nice beach park, but that was a long time for an abandoned mill to be left as a public nuisance. Something to consider for large scale project permitting.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Extreme Low Tide: Sand Dollar Tracks and Moon Snails

My job the other day was to assess the geology hazard at a very steep and high shoreline bluff. From the top of the bluff there was not much to conclude regarding the underlying geology. All I could ascertain was the upper bluff was too steep and too high to descend.

No way down

There was no way to see any of the bluff without taking a long beach walk from a better access point. The timing of the visit was very good with sunny weather and a very low tide which pulled out well beyond the local mean low tide.

There were plenty of good geology exposures along this steep bluff, but on my return walk I took some time taking in the marine life far out on the sandy tide flats.

Sand dollar pile up

Sand dollar making tracks

Sand dollar track across ripples

During my walk I came across several of these odd odd shaped objects on the tide flats:

The objects are rubbery with sand embedded in them.

And yes bare foot field work is great

Then a bit further on I found the responsible animal.

This large snail is Euspira lewisii or moon snail. The snail happened to also be April's Critter of the Month (eyes-under-puget-sound-critter-of-month.

The sandy rubbery casings I was seeing are egg packages and I happened to get lucky and saw an egg package being just released. The moon snail is a predator and eats clams by boring through the shell. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Very low Angle Landslide and a Low Angle Tree

I had a revisit to a shoreline bluff that I did some work on 15 years ago. At the time, a relatively recent slide had taken place that left a pile of debris on the upper beach. The slide had also pushed over a tree that was growing near the base of the bluff. Seventeen years after the slide the tree is still hanging on and in fact, two of its limbs are now growing upward as leads. Rather impressive that a tree could maintain this angle.

This shore reach is fairly stable. Despite being fairly exposed to open fetch, waves do not reach the toe of the bluff very often and the beach is well supplied with sediment from eroding bluffs to the west. When waves do reach the bluff toe, the erosion is slow due to the hard compact nature of these preglacial deposits.

The slide that pushed the tree over was a but unusual in that it was not from the steep bluff face collapsing, but was instead a flow of loose material that had "waterfalled" down the cliff from a very low angle slide on the upland above the bluff.

I found my notes on the slide "Failure slope is impacted by perched water being directed into a more sandy ice contact deposit that is not consolidated. Failure does not appear to be the result of clearing. Several old growth trees impacted. Failure slope is less than 10 degrees. Failure extends 250 feet back from the top edge of the bluff."

This slide taught me a few lessons and made me very alert for similar slides.


Friday, May 5, 2017

The Van Zandt Slide Gets Some More Attention

Dave Petley calls attention to the use of LiDAR (light detecting and raging) and the Van Zandt landslide in Whatcom County ( His post is in part derived from a bellinghamherald article that covers the recent work of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources Division of Geology and Earth Resources (DNRGER). He also gave my blog a nice compliment - I did a short write up on the Van Zandt Landslide (van-zandt-landslide-introduction) a while back after a trip to the slide with Geoff Malick. Goeff is getting near completion of his thesis on the slide.

The DNRGER has developed and recently expanded their geology information map portal The portal provides geologic maps but has also recently added LiDAR coverage.

I typically do not use the portal very often as I have most of the maps I need and their accompanying pamphlets/booklets. However, a separate portal of really good LiDAR imagery has recently been developed by the DNRGER ( This portal does not include as much LiDAR derived imagery as the main geology portal as a lot of LiDAR areas have yet to be added. But the quality of the imagery is sharper and allows one to pick which LiDAR flight to view when there are multiple LiDAR flights available. It also allows turning on or off the bare earth imagery. The site can also be used to download the raw data.

Below are the two images of the VanZandt Slde deposit from the portal - I should note some resolution gets lost in the process of saving the images to Blogger transferable images.

The DNRDGER has been getting really good at working with the LiDAR derived imagery by assigning color shades to elevations.

The imagery goes a long way to understanding where potential hazards are located. It has been my experience that the imagery is generally well understood by non geologists and the images certainly help me explain slide locations. The resources that the DNRGER are providing our state will go a long way towards better hazard planning - depending on how planners and politicians act.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Washington State Republican Representatives Positions on the American Health Care Act

The Affordable Health Care Act was the other Washington's drama on May 4th. As the House bill debate was entirely within the GOP with no effort at bipartisan legislation, I will leave off the Democrats. There are 4 Washington GOP representatives.

Jamie Herrera Beutler represents southwest Washington State. She voted no and and has been pretty clear about why. Her press statement throws in the usual Obamacare repeal and replace language, but she clearly articulates that the GOP House bill would be bad for southwest Washington State.

Jaime Herrera Beutler released the following statement regarding the U.S. House’s vote on the The American Health Care Act:
“I remain steadfast in my commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare with health care solutions that better serve all residents of Southwest Washington.
“Despite working with House leadership, the President and Vice President up until the last minute to improve it, I still didn’t feel that the American Health Care Act does enough to make health care affordable and accessible for all.  And while I appreciate House leadership’s willingness to meet me halfway on my amendment to ensure vulnerable children aren’t left behind, the final bill still fell short.  
“The difficulties this bill would create for millions of children still need to be addressed.  For the last several weeks, I fought to include my amendment to strengthen the Medicaid safety net for the kids who depend on it for their health care.  Protecting vulnerable children is a core purpose of the Medicaid program and when the program fails to do so, it fails entirely.   I could not vote to let those kids fall through the cracks.
“Southwest Washington residents also deserve a greater commitment to lowering health costs so that out-of-pocket expenses, premiums and taxes are taking up less of their monthly paychecks.  Congress should more purposefully move ahead with free market reforms that increase competition between insurance providers and drive down premiums and deductibles. 
“I’ll remain fully engaged as Congress moves forward with this effort, and won’t cease working toward solutions that leave Southwest Washington residents with better access to health care than Obamacare has left them.”
Dave Newhouse was not able to vote as he was home with his very ill wife, but he did issue a statement. It would appear that he is favorably inclined to what was passed, but perhaps he is hoping the U.S. Senate will do something better:

“For years, I have been hearing from Central Washington families who lost insurance that they wanted to keep and are now paying more for health care due to the Affordable Care Act. Their stories of paying higher prices for insurance and higher deductibles with limited insurance options have been the reason I have voted in the past to repeal Obamacare along with its mandate and bureaucratic regulations. I strongly believe that every American deserves access to affordable health care, and the status quo under the ACA is not working. Because of my wife Carol’s health, I have largely remained by her side and was unable to be in D.C. for the vote on the AHCA. I am pleased the process to improve our health care system will continue with action by the Senate and further negotiations with the House. I will continue to work with my colleagues to keep my promise to reverse the burdens created by Obamacare and restore patient-centered health care.”

Cathy McMorris-Rogers voted, yes. I will offer the the opinion that McMorris-Rogers is a bit of a partisan hack. It is tempting to get into the weeds of each of her points, but the main driver of the GOP house bill is a removal of a tax of 3.5% on dividends for those that earn over $250,000. This is not a health care bill, it is a tax cut for a small segment of the population. What follows is her statement of why. 

  • The ACHA dismantles the harmful Obamacare taxes that have hurt job creators, increased premium costs, and limited options for patients and healthcare providers—including taxes on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and medical devices. 
  • It eliminates the individual and employer mandates, which forced millions of workers, families, and job creators into expensive plans that they don’t want and cannot afford.   
  • It helps young adults access health insurance and stabilizes the marketplace by allowing young adults to continue staying on their parents’ plan until they’re 26. This is not a change - this is part of the ACA (Obama Care)
  • It guarantees coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions and bans health insurers from charging a patient higher premiums as long as they maintain continuous coverage, or sign up for new coverage within 63 days of exiting a previous insurance plan. This is the not a tax penalty mandate. It is an insurance mandate and is actually more severe than the tax penalty under current law. 
  • It establishes a Patient State and Stability Fund and Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program, which provides states with $130 billion to design programs that meet the unique needs of their patient populations, help low-income Americans afford health care, and provide a backstop safety net for Americans with pre-existing conditions. This includes $15 billion specifically for mental health and substance abuse and newborn care.    
  • It modernizes and strengthens Medicaid by transitioning to a “per capita allotment” so states can better serve the patients most in need, while still providing for current Medicaid beneficiaries — like those under the expansion in Washington state — by honoring the enhanced state match until these individuals cycle off the program of their own free will. This Medicaid reform represents the biggest entitlement reform in a generation and puts the program on a sustainable fiscal path.
  • It empowers individuals and families to spend their health care dollars the way they want and need by enhancing and expanding Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) — nearly doubling the amount of money people can contribute and broadening how people can use it.
  • It helps Americans access affordable, quality health care by providing a monthly tax credit — between $2,000 and $14,000 per year — for low and middle income individuals and families who don’t receive insurance through work or a government program to purchase private, quality coverage of their choice.
Dave Reichert voted no. Pretty clear statement as to why. I underlined "both sides of the aisle" because this bill was strictly a GOP bill.

U.S. Congressman Dave Reichert (WA-8) released the following statement regarding the upcoming vote on the American Health Care Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Over the past several years, I have been committed to fixing our current health care system to increase choice, reduce costs on Americans, and allow families to access the care they need. I have also remained committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our communities, including children on Medicaid, people with preexisting conditions, and older Americans. These have been and continue to be my priorities for health care reform. Unfortunately, the current House bill falls short and does not provide the essential protections I need to support it.
With all of the political banter surrounding this bill, it can be difficult to remember that this decision ultimately comes down to people. We need to know our loved ones can get and afford the care they need, regardless of age, income, or health status.  And we need to know that changes made by our government, even to a failing system, will not leave our friends, families, and neighbors worse off. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fix what is failing and make our current system work better for American families.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hamilton Iron

Geology is very often a study of deep history. The more recent geology history intersects human history. In doing some research on one bit of recent geology history, I came across this map which had some other geology/human history that distracted me for a bit..

1890s Government Land Office Survey

The map shows a survey of an area along the Skagit River across from present day Hamilton (Hamilton has had some troubles with the Skagit River flooding and channel movement).

I was vaguely aware of coal diggings which are shown on the map. The Coal Mine Hotel shown on the map is long gone - likely taken out by the river a long time ago.

To the east of the coal mining area are a couple of mapped mining claims on the survey map. These claims are in a completely different geologic formation that would not include any coal - the Shucksan Greenschist, an ocean floor unit that was accreted onto the North American margin. During accretion, these ocean floor rocks were deeply buried in the subduction zone along the edge of North America and were metamorphosed under very high pressures, but remarkably relatively low temperatures.  

The mining claims were for iron mining. Hill and Melrose (1940) provide a description of the iron ore district near Hamilton and note that the ore was shipped to Irondale (its-called-ironddale-for-reason).

The mountain slope upon where the claims are located is aptly named Iron Mountain. The mining activity was fairly short lived as far superior deposits and other logistics of the steel industry shifted the fortunes of the this mining district.

The Skagit River Journal (, a wonderful history source for the Skagit County area, noted that there were issues with mining claim registrations which hurt the district.

The geology of the iron deposits is very complex with lots of faults and discontinuities. Owen (1988) provides a detailed description of these iron deposits in a University of Washington thesis titled The petrogensis of blueschist facies ironstones in the Shucksan and Easton Schists, North Cascades, Washington. The geology and geochemistry of Iron Mountain can be a bit daunting with some fairly unique and rare mineral assemblages.

I took a look at the 1950s aerial photograph of the mine claim area to see if there was any evidence of mining. 

Nothing was evident at these claims, but plenty of logging roads and landslide scars. And note the sediment clogged stream coming off of Iron Mountain. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Orcas, Seals, Dabob Bay and Broad Spit

I was attempting to track down a reference that included the term Broad Spit and got sidetracked by this article from 2012:

The article describes an Orca entering Dabob Bay and swimming along the east side of the bay to the head of the bay and then turning back south and swimming down the west side of the bay to Broad Spit. Just south of Broad Spit her/his mates were gathered to prey of the seals that the lone Orca had frightened.

Broad Spit is a cuspate shoreform that protrudes out from the steep shoreline on the east side of the Bolton Peninsula into Dabob Bay.

Upper Dabob Bay with the Bolton Peninsula on the left and Toandos (or Coyle) Peninsula on the right.
Quilcene Bay is to the west of the Bolton and Hood Canal is east of the Toandos
Broad Spit protrudes from the east side of the Bolton

Closer view of the spit

Broad Spit has been located along the shore of the bay for a long time.

1860 survey of the coast

Friday, April 21, 2017

My Lahar/Policy Talk to the Whatcom County Council

A couple of weeks ago I gave a short talk on lahar hazard issues to the Whatcom County Council. The talk was a bit of a follow up on a presentation that had been made to the County Council in February by geologists from the USGS Cascade Volcano Observatory and geologists who work for Whactom County.  The USGS gave a presentation on Mount Baker Hazards and answered questions from the council. 

Council Member Barbara Brenner had asked Don Easterbrook to speak at the Council meeting. Dr. Easterbrook had written to the council ( that had some contrary opinions to lahar hazard mapping that has been done by the USGS. I was asked by Council if I would be willing to speak on the issue as well. This is in part because of information that I had forwarded to the Council that was contrary to Dr. Easterbrook's views as well as my technical review of the County geology hazardous areas regulations. 

What follows are the slides I used in my presentation which was primarily on process and how public policy regarding geologic hazard and risk can be approached. Some elaboration as fitting is provided below each slide.
This slide was simply to go over the recommended geology hazard regulation changes. First I was a volunteer on Critical Areas Ordinance Technical Advisory Committee. (CAO TAC). I noted that most of the changes to geology hazard regulations were pretty minor and indeed none of the changes to the geology hazard code caused any consternation in later public reviews. I did suggest that the tsunami regulations be separated from seiche hazards as the two pose different levels of hazard. Whatcom County has no known seiche hazards but it can not be ruled out. The tsunami hazard is better understood and keeping the two separate made better sense to me. One area of erosion hazard was removed as it is my view that surface water run off erosion is better handled and is handled with other regulations. Lastly I noted that I did nothing with the code in regards to lahars and big landslide hazards due to the lack of policy guidance - it was and is my view that policy should come before code changes.

Just an image of what a lahar deposit looks like with a note that getting hit by this would be pretty destructive and rather difficult to mitigate.

 Front bit for getting to policy guidance.

Language in the Whatcom County plan about Mount Baker. I underlined unpredictable as this was an aspect that I would discuss later.

Goal 10 E lays out the overall goal of the county geohazards approach. Underlined loss of life and expenditure of public funds because both individuals and society should be considered. Volcanic impact areas was underlined because that is why we were having this little talk. The last underlined part is also the area associated with regulations, but I did note that other means can be used to achieve the goal besides regulations alone.

This policy has been in the regulations and is a fairly common approach for infrequent but large geology hazards such as tsunamis and lahars fit in this as well. Generally you want hospitals or emergency response facilities located out of hazard areas.

This policy repeats an aspect of the goal can be achieved using multiple approaches, but again we are here to talk about the regulatory side, but in that regard other approaches that may be used should be considered.

This policy gets into why no action was taken regarding changing lahar hazard at the technical committee review point. Without public process and input making substantive changes would not be appropriate. If the process leads to a level of public risk that is acceptable, then the regulations can be written to meet that acceptable risk level.

This is really the same thing, but perhaps emphasizes approaching each hazard a bit differently.

Suggested approach in a very abbreviated manner. I noted that a new paper which will provide a very good overiew of Mount Baker geology and hazards is in review and will greatly aid in understanding the science.

This is a blank chart that has been used for laying out acceptable risk levels for frequency and fatalities associated with geology hazards. It has been used in Hong Kong and in British Columbia.

The approach has some appeal in that it splits the tasks of plotting the risk between two groups. The geologists figure out what the annual frequency of an event taking place and then planners and policy makers assess the fatalities of the event. More on this chart later.

I lifted the sentence from an article on a completely different science subject, but feel it is applicable. Alas, I lost the reference so apologies to whoever really deserves it. The picture was lifted as well from a volcano hazard presentation from an Oregon County.

The emphasis was to link it to the fact that determining the potential for a hazard event taking place means that there will be scientific uncertainty, and scientists should be comfortable explaining the uncertainty to policy makers. I felt the the USGS folks had done a reasonable job at this during their presentation, but there things are worth repeating.

There is going to be uncertainty and pubic officials have to know that.

For Mount Baker, the history of lahars is a bit short due to the ice age. With one exception all the large lahars that may have come off the mountain have been erased due to the ice age glaciers covering the entire region. The USGS folks did a pretty job of covering this and I was repeating their points.

I put this map up to note that there had been lava flows including the youngest on the mountain that headed north (thanks David Tucker for the help with this). I felt putting this map up was important to counter a map that Don Easterbrook presented that had the exact same reference but left off the youngest lava flows on the north side of the mountain.

 Just repeating myself.

People are not going to be banned from volcanic hazard areas. But it is useful to think about the types of populations and visitors that could be at risk depending on the policy approach and regulations.

With all the words and technical talk that can consume geology hazards, the point can get lost that geology hazards kill people. I will say that I got some push back post the talk about this slide. that push back came from people that are opposed to lahar hazard regulations and they were upset that the slide was playing on emotions. They are right, but I also think that it is too easy when trying to figure out potential hazards and run out distances from lahars or debris avalanches and getting excited about the science and policy impacts to property owners it is worth being starkly reminded about why we are even considering the regulations. The picture is from the Armero tragedy of 1985 when over 23,000 people were killed by a lahar associated with a small volcanic eruption.
I got this idea of risk principles and have modified it a bit or a lot.

I noted that existing development was identified at risk elsewhere in Whatcom County and the risk was viewed as high enough that additional actions to protect people was taken. Purchases of very high risk sites and other actions.

 Back to the blank graph.

I do not think the council nor was I ready to plot out any specific scenarios on the chart. But discussed some extreme end points. A 1:100 year event that could kill 10,000 people is not likely a very acceptable outcome.

 What a distal muddy lahar looks like for people escaping.

Besides lahars, large mountainside landslides are a similar problem in the mountain valleys. The LiDAR image above is the town of Glacier. Glacier would be impacted with very little warning time if a lahar or debris avalanche descended down Glacier Creek from Mount Baker. But another hazard is evident at Glacier - the valley floor is covered by a large landslide deposit - the lumpy ground evident in the LiDAR imagery.

Just up the North Fork Nooksack River from Mapple Falls is another area of lumpy ground from a large landslide that covered the valley floor.

This large landslide is east of Kendall. The scarps at the top of the slide appear recent in the LiDAR and I observed fairly fresh fractures on the headwall area of this slide when I last visited the slide.

This slide has been called Devil's Slide and covers the north end of the South Fork Nooksack valley near the confluence with the main stem of the Nooksack River.

Geologists like this, but I also think it is the geologist's job to give notice to civilization and thus change the phrase. To some extent Durant may have been inspired by the destruction of historic sites such as what took place at Vesuvius.

Some credit where it is due. The Scott and others paper is most helpful on the lahar hazard issue. And David Tucker provided some good guidance as well.