The Department of the Interior added its backing to Sen. Maria Cantwell's (D-WA) Quileute tsunami protection legislation (S.636), at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday.
"The Department supports Senate bill 636,"said Donald Laverdure, senior officials of the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs. "Recent tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean, including the one that struck Japan last month and created a huge disaster, clearly demonstrate the risk for the tribe and its citizens, and the need to move housing and infrastructure inland."
At the hearing, Cantwell urged her colleagues to support legislation that would enable the Quileute Tribe to move to higher ground, away from the danger of a Pacific tsunami and persistent Quillayute River flooding. Congressman Norm Dicks has introduced companion legislation in the House.
"The recent tragedy in Japan reminds us that we cannot afford to wait until a catastrophic tsunami strikes. We must act now to prepare Washington's coastal communities and prevent loss of life and property," said Senator Cantwell. "This bill, which could not have happened without years of hard work by the National Park Service and Quileute Tribe, will allow the tribe to move to higher ground and out of harm's way. I will continue fighting with Congressman Dicks on this sensible plan to increase economic opportunity and safeguard Quileute families and their property from devastating floods and tsunamis."
Cantwell's legislation, introduced in the Senate on March 17th, would authorize the transfer of appropriate tracts of higher elevation land from Olympic National Park, which borders the Quileute Tribal Reservation, enabling the tribe to relocate out of a flood zone. These tracts would be added to private lands the Tribe has purchased to form a contiguous area upon which the tribe's school, a daycare center, the elder center, tribal government offices, and several tribal members' homes could be constructed.
The legislation would also settle, by mutual agreement, a longstanding dispute between the Olympic National Park and the tribe over the northern boundary of the reservation. In addition, the bill will guarantee public access to beaches on the Washington coast and designate as wilderness thousands of acres of land currently within the Olympic National Park boundary.
The committee heard testimony in support of the legislation from the Honorable Bonita Cleveland, Chairperson of the Quileute Nation located in La Push, WA.During her testimony, Cleveland explained how there is only one road that connects the lower village to higher ground, and it is often buried under several feet of water when flooded, which Cleveland said occurs every winter. Cleveland also showed a ten-minute video that details the tribe's precarious location as well as touches on the tribe's recent notoriety gained through its depiction in the movie series Twilight.
"Although the Japanese tsunami is a very recent reminder of the destruction that happens after an earthquake in the ocean, our people have been living for decades among decades with the fear of a tsunami and our flooding," Cleveland said. "Because our village is located on one-square-mile, Mr. Chairman, and we are between the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic National Park, we have nowhere else to go. Senator Cantwell's legislation would allow the Quileute Tribe a permanent way out of the tsunami zone. Without this bill, Mr. Chairman, the tsunami could be very dangerous to our people. I hope the words and the video shows our urgent and desperate need."