Washington raft company reconsiders tour past mudslide devastation

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 13, 2015 3:36 PM

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A Washington state river rafting company offering to take customers floating past the site of a mudslide where 43 people died last year said it might cancel the tour after an outpouring of anger from victims' families.

The controversy over the proposed rafting trip comes just ahead of the March 22 one-year anniversary of the collapse of a saturated hillside on the Stillaguamish River, which sent waves of mud down on a rural community in the Cascade foothills.

A company called Pacific NW Float Trips, run by Coast Guard Captain Dave Button, has advertised a rafting tour that will take people past the site of the disaster in Oso, about 50 miles north of Seattle.

"See the devastation caused by the gigantic Mudslide," the website advertisement reads. "View this Natural Disaster from one of our Avon Rafts as you flow silently by this mysterious area that drew National Attention and a visit from our President."

Button said the tour was aimed at raising awareness and money for victims, with about 25 percent of the proceeds being donated to the Oso community.

"To me it was a way to honor those people who lost their lives and to learn from the tragedy," he said.

Since creating plans for the raft trip, which costs $90 and includes lunch, Button said he has received angry phone calls and emails from survivors, the families of victims and first responders.

"Almost 90 percent of my responses were negative," he said. "Very scorching. We are definitely reconsidering our involvement."

Attorney Karen Willie, who represents the families of victims, wrote to Button saying her clients were "appalled that your company would make the last resting place of their families into a tourist attraction."

She also threatened legal action should the tours commence.

Button said he was responding directly to those who have expressed anger and would meet with families next week.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott)