The Seismic Rehabilitation Program is a state competitive grant that provides funding for rehabilitation of critical public buildings. Money is available to help fix or relocate seismically vulnerable schools. But ironically, it has long been policy to not accept applications from schools in the tsunami inundation zone. I have been persistently arguing that children along our coastline deserve the same consideration as any other child in Oregon. Last week at my urging, the department overseeing grants voted to start rule-making to remove this prohibition.
Seismic grants for schools, unfortunately, is just one aspect of an alarming larger problem.
A state agency called the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) is responsible for using best available science to determine the extent of a potential tsunami in the aftermath of a coastal earthquake. But state statutes also detail that once the line is drawn, critical facilities including police and fire departments, schools, college buildings, or hospitals cannot be constructed within the inundation line. See ORS 455.446.
Certainly we don’t want to build new schools in dangerous places. But at the same time, we have to ask what the economic ramifications are of this policy. How will they affect your insurance costs or the resale value of your home?
Said another way, who will buy a house in a neighborhood too dangerous for a police station? Who will start a business in an area where fire stations are not allowed? How do aging schools affect our community’s future?
I want us to prepare for a natural disaster. I don’t want to create an economic disaster in the process.
On Thursday I led a panel of coastal legislators, House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, that advocated for updating our statutes. House Bill 3309 with the dash-two amendments would remove the prohibition on building new structures and instead instruct DOGAMI to provide advice, assistance, and methods to mitigate risk. See ORS 455.447(4).
As we each prepare our families for a major earthquake, we also know that science is helping us better understand what to expect and innovations in engineering and architecture will help us better withstand that event. At the Hatfield Center in Newport, the new Marine Science Building is designed not only to survive the quake and wave, but also offer a safe haven for nearby workers or visitors. Innovation and preparation should be encouraged, not precluded.
We need to be well prepared for an eventual seismic event at the Coast. But I will continue to actively oppose any limitation or disinvestment of our communities by state agencies as they allocate scarce state resources.
To learn more about the inundation zone and evacuation plan for your area, click here.