House approves land swap for tribe

By:  Jim Camden
Source: The Spokesman-Review

The U.S. House of Representatives approved by an overwhelming margin a swap of federal land that will allow a small Northwest tribe to move its school and some homes out of a tsunami zone on the Pacific Coast.

By a vote of 381 to 7, the House passed a bill directing the U.S. Park Service to make a trade with the Quileute Tribe in La Push, Wash., for about 780 acres in the Olympic National Park, which adjoins the reservation in the Olympic National Forest.

“We are really ecstatic,” Tribal Chairman Tony Foster said Tuesday of the House vote.

The coastal tribe has tried for years to move buildings off of land only slightly above sea level along the northwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula.

The efforts gained steam last year, after images of the tsunami that hit Japan stunned people around the world. Like the Japanese, the Quileutes live in an area that historically has been subjected to tidal waves caused by an underlying earthquake zone.

A magnitude-5.7 quake was reported off Vancouver Island on Saturday afternoon, and two smaller quakes were reported near Coos Bay, Ore.

Foster said he didn’t feel the quakes at La Push, but any seismic activity is a concern.

“We know the threat is there,” he said. “It’s about saving lives now.”

The U.S. Senate has a similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., which passed the Indian Affairs Committee last July but as yet has not received the written report needed to move to the Senate floor. Passing the House bill and sending it to the Senate provides another avenue for approving the swap without getting bogged down like most lands bills do in negotiations at the end of the session.

“That will be helpful to us,” Cantwell said Tuesday. “It’s a very high priority. The tsunami in Japan painted a picture of what can happen on our coast.”