Legislation would give Quileutes higher ground

By:  Paige Dickerson, Peninsula Daily News
Source: Peninsula Daily News

LAPUSH — Identical bills were filed Thursday in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that, if passed, will transfer 772 acres of Olympic National Park land to the Quileute tribe to allow the tribe to move out of a tsunami zone.

The legislation, originally introduced by Congressman Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, in the House in December, was officially filed Thursday in both houses by both Dicks and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace.

If the bill had been officially filed in December, it would have expired at the end of the year.

Higher ground

The legislation would give 280 acres at the south side of the reservation in LaPush to the tribe to develop so that it can move its school, elder center, tribal administrative offices and some homes to higher ground.

The tribe lives at the mouth of the Quillayute River on the Pacific Coast, and much of the village is in flood and tsunami zones.

The legislation also would transfer 492 acres at the northern part of the reservation to resolve a long-standing boundary dispute of more than 50 years with the park, which completely surrounds the reservation.

On Friday, the tribe suggested that some 350 to 400 people evacuate low areas of LaPush after a tsunami advisory was issued following a magnitude 8.9 earthquake in Japan.

That brought the threat to the coastal tribe into sharp focus, Chairwoman Bonita Cleveland said.

“This is truly a relief to know they have taken this important measure to protect the Quileute people against flooding concerns and tsunami dangers,” Cleveland said.

“We all know Mother Earth gives as well as she has the power to take away.

“And she has done just that in the Japanese crisis.” 

Reminder of threat

Cantwell told the Senate much the same thing.

“Last week’s tragedy in Japan is a reminder of the importance of preparing coastal communities for future tsunamis,” she said when introducing the bill in the Senate on Thursday.

“This bill will allow the Quileute tribe to move their community’s infrastructure to higher ground and out of harm’s way.”

Dicks requested that Olympic National Park work with the tribe to develop legislation for the land transfer.

“The recent tragedy on the Japanese coast is a reminder of the enormous power of these waves and underscores the importance of passing this legislation as soon as possible so the tribe can move to safer ground outside the tsunami zone,” said Dicks, who represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.

Cleveland expressed thanks to Dicks and Cantwell and Olympic National Park as well as the tribal council, Mayor Bryon Monohon of Forks, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and the National Congress of the American Indian, all of which have supported the legislation.

“The legislation will open the way for the tribe to develop effective stream bank protection methods to safeguard our people and infrastructure from the continual and severe flooding we experience,” Cleveland said. 

“We are extremely proud that an area of enormous cultural and religious significance to our tribe, such as Thunder Field, will once again become part of our reservation.”

Rialto Beach

Although the bill resolves the dispute over the northern boundary by transferring some land to the tribe, the bill does not resolve a dispute over who owns Rialto Beach, which is part of the park.

Both the tribe and the park agreed to set that issue aside while negotiating what land would change hands.

The legislation would ensure the public has access to both Rialto Beach and Second Beach, which also is in the park.

In 2005 and 2006, during negotiations, the tribe, which owns the parking lot and trailhead to Second Beach, closed public access to the beach while it awaited word on the possibility of gaining higher parkland.

The exact boundary of the reservation has been disputed along the Quillayute River since a 1910 storm shifted the mouth of the river southward from the shore of Rialto Beach to just off the sand spit near Little James Island.

In addition to the land for the Quileute, the bill also seeks to designate approximately 4,011 acres in the park as wilderness — a 4,000-acre tract near Lake Crescent and an 11-acre area near Boulder Creek, a tributary of the Elwha River.