- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - A state agency is launching a two-year effort to inventory landslide sites across Arizona and assess the potentially deadly hazards those sites can present.

The Arizona Geological Survey announced the project Tuesday - two days after the one-year anniversary of a slide that killed 43 people in Washington state and three days before the planned reopening of a stretch of northern Arizona highway closed by a 2013 slide.

The planned inventory will be accessible in an online database, the agency said.

Research geologist Ann Youberg, who is the project’s manager, said it’s currently difficult to assess hazards to people and property because little is known about the nature or extent of landslide activity in Arizona.

However, landslide hazards are increasing due to expanding development in mountainous terrain and due to debris flows resulting from wildfires and seasonal rains, the agency said.

Federal pre-disaster mitigation money will cover most of the project’s initial costs, the agency said.

The agency said the project will inventory historic and prehistoric landslides, initially focusing on highly populated areas and transportation corridors where hazards and risks are greatest.

The inventory and assessments it enables will be a useful tool for emergency managers across Arizona, said Wendy Smith-Reeve, deputy director of the state Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. “By understanding which communities are at risk, we can take steps to mitigate the threat.”

The Washington slide occurred March 22, 2014, when a rain-soaked hillside overlooking Oso suddenly collapsed, sending millions of tons of soil and sand across a river valley. Dozens of homes were buried and closing a highway for months.

In Arizona, a 23-mile section of US 89 along the Echo Cliffs south of Page has been closed since a Feb. 20, 2013, landslide buckled 150 feet of roadway.

A detour, Temporary US 89, was designated later in 2013 after the state paved a Navajo tribal highway.

A $25 million repair project began last summer and the closed section of US 89 is scheduled to reopen Friday.

The project included removing 1 million cubic yards of rock and other material to realign the highway and constructing a rock structure at the cliffs’ base to support the highway, the state Department of Transportation said.

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