Interior supports Quileute tsunami protection bill

The U.S. Department of the Interior has given its support to a bill sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wa.) that would allow the Quileute Tribe of coastal Washington state to move to higher ground that would offer more protection from yearly flooding and in case of a tsunami.

The bill would authorize the transfer of higher-elevation land from Olympic National Park to the tribe near land the tribe has already purchased, allowing it to locate a school, daycare center, elder center, tribal government offices and homes on safer ground. The legislation would also define a disputed boundary between the tribe’s reservation and the national park, guarantee public access to Washington coast beaches and designate thousands of acres of land within Olympic National Park as wilderness.

At a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday, Bonita Cleveland, chairperson of the Quileute Nation, testified about the tribe’s current location that suffers persistent flooding and would be dangerous in case of a tsunami, showing a video to illustrate her point.

“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,” Cantwell said in a statement. “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."