Hotakainen: Obama OKs park-land transfer to Quileute tribe

By:  Rob Hotakainen
Source: The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama today signed a bill that will transfer 785 acres of federal park land along the Pacific Ocean to the Quileute Indian tribe, allowing members to move to higher ground to avoid a possible tsunami. 

The White House announced the move in a statement Monday afternoon, saying the president’s signature will allow the land in the Olympic National Park “to be held in trust for the benefit” of the tribe.

It’s the last step in a long process that involved members of the Washington state delegation, mainly Democrat Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Norm Dicks, who sponsored the legislation.

After holding hearings on the subject in 2011, Congress gave final approval to the legislation two weeks ago.

Both Dicks and Cantwell had argued that the coastal tribe faced imminent danger and needed to be moved immediately.

“With the president’s signature today, the long-awaited move out of harm’s way can finally begin for the Quileute,” Cantwell said. 

Tribal officials said that a 5.7 earthquake off the coast of Vancouver Island earlier this month served as "an ominous reminder" facing the Quileute village in La Push, Wash. 

The Quileute reservation consists of one square mile of land, surrounded by the Olympic National Park with many areas that are steep and unbuildable. The tribe’s school, offices and homes are located right next to the ocean. 

The transfer required a reversal by Congress, which declared 95 percent of the park a wilderness area in 1988.