First to move out of tsunami/flood zone in LaPush will be school

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

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LAPUSH — The first Quileute building to be moved out of the tsunami and flood zone will be the tribe’s school, said the manager of the Move to Higher Ground project.

The Quileute tribe gained 785 acres of land in 2012 when Congress transferred the land to the tribe from Olympic National Park.

Since then, it has conducted public meetings and planning sessions on how to move the Quileute Tribal School, the tribe’s senior center, tribal administration and other facilities into new buildings at a safe elevation.

Eventually all will be moved, said Susan Devine of the engineering firm Parametrix in Bremerton, who has been working as a consultant to the tribe on the project and was hired in October to manage it.

But the school, which has 65 students in grades kindergarten through 12th, will be first.

The school is near the beach next to the Pacific Ocean and the Quillayute River.

“The school is at the tip of the ocean, literally at the edge of the ocean and river,” Devine said. “If a tsunami comes, that’s the future of the tribe all in one building.”

A tsunami would threaten all the critical facilities of the Quileute tribe. The population of about 400 in LaPush, near Forks on the West End, is located almost entirely within the tsunami zone.

The present location of the village was the only place within the original 640-acre tribal reservation that could accommodate the tribe’s community.

The tribe worked for decades to gain land at a higher elevation to move out of potential danger from tsunami or flooding of the Quillayute River.

In addition to the tsunami risk, winter flooding often cuts off access to LaPush along state Highway 110, leaving residents with no way to get in or out of the area.

No decision has been made about exactly where the school will be located, how large it must be, what it will look like or when construction will begin.

Many decisions await funding, said Devine, who is looking into acquiring grants and finding private investors.

“We are still in early planning stages,” she said.

Devine said she hopes to have a range of costs within the next 90 days, and then, once the Quileute’s planning process is done, the focus will change to seeking out the funding to rebuild.

“We will have to be creative,” she said.

Planning is expected to continue for another six to nine months, Devine said.

“I’m hoping that [by then] we have funding to go to the next step to start designing,” she said.

The next priority is likely to be the senior center to ensure the elders are safe.

“We haven’t quantified how many buildings [will be built] yet,” Devine said, but added that the additional land provides more than enough room to relocate everything and provide for future housing.

All new construction will be on higher ground.

A 275-acre section of the newly acquired land will be the site for such public buildings as the school, Tribal Council headquarters, the elder and community center and other major community use buildings.

None of the buildings would be near a river or wetlands, or otherwise impact any kind of critical area, Devine said.

Devine said there are also planned provisions for housing plots, but no one will be forced to relocate from their homes in the village.

“How to make it happen — that’s my mission,” she said.

Devine “has many strengths in all areas required for a project of this magnitude,” said the tribe’s Chairwoman Naomi Jacobson.

“Her qualifications are quite impressive. However, her ability to relate to and work with our community on such a personal level to develop this vision is very important to all of us.”

A series of public meetings were held to determine what the community’s priorities were, and about 100 people have taken part so far.

“It was our chance to ask, ‘How would you plan for future long-term growth?’” Devine said.

“It’s not every day you get to rebuild your village somewhere else,” she said.

She described the process as including sample layouts of the new village location in addition to the community priorities.

Tribal members will be involved at every stage of the process, Devine said.

“The Quileute Tribal Council is committed to providing the community with meaningful opportunities to provide input” in the process, the council said in a prepared statement.

“This effort has been decades in the making and many tribal members and former leaders were influential in getting us to where we are today.

“Everyone is welcome to continue contributing in a meaningful way to ensuring a future for our people.”

The children in the school were also involved in the process, allowing them to have a say in what their future home will look like.

“We had some great ideas from the kids. They deserve to be there and graduate from the new school,” Devine said.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 30. 2015 6:32PM
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