Quileute Tribal Council urges action on land acquisition, cell phone service

By:  Paige Dickerson
Source: Peninsula Daily News

LAPUSH — The Quileute Tribal Council told Sen. Maria Cantwell about their need to move their Pacific Coast community to higher ground while visiting Washington, D.C., last week.

The five-member council wanted to emphasize their safety concerns to Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, the council said in a statement.

Late last year, the 6th Congressional District's congressman, Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, introduced legislation that would transfer about 772 acres of land from Olympic National Park to the tribe, allowing them to move much of the reservation upland — away from tsunami and Quillayute River flood zones in LaPush.

“It was very important for us to personally deliver the message that spoke to the sentiments of our people and to echo the words of our ancestors and elders who have walked on,” said Quileute Chairwoman Bonita Cleveland.

“Many of them worked diligently on this legislation, and I know their spirits were with us as we journeyed for our tribe.”

Although Cantwell has not yet filed a companion bill, her spokesman, Jered Leopold, said she was supportive of the idea.

“Senator Cantwell is committed to working with Congressman Dicks and Quileute leaders to increase economic opportunity and protect tribal members and their property from devastating floods and tsunamis,” he said.

Relocate school, center

“We desperately need passage of the land transfer legislation so that before the tsunami comes, we can relocate the Quileute Tribal School and senior center to higher ground,” Cleveland said.

“The Quileutes are watching river flooding and high water cause massive erosion that is destroying traditional Quileute fishing and hunting lands, as well threatening the tribal school, administrative offices and the U.S. Coast Guard Station that protects tribal fishermen.

“There is no hope of ever recovering many of these precious lands, and there is great fear that critical tribal infrastructure could be destroyed in a flash by a sudden change in the river channel.”

The bill must first move through several committees before it is voted on by the House or Senate.

Dicks, whose district includes the North Olympic Peninsula, said last year that he hoped for votes in both the House and the Senate this year.

Cell phone service

The council also met with a communications attorney to see if they could speed up acquiring cell phone service on the reservation.

The attorney will look into anything that can be done with the Federal Communications Commission to get the service up and running as quickly as possible, the council said.

Currently, no service is available because no tower is close enough to LaPush to permit it.

The tribe signed an agreement last year with Verizon to build a tower before the end of 2013, said Executive Director Bill Peach.

Toward the end of 2010, Verizon representatives had said that the project would be put off until after 2011. But in recent conversations, they have said bids for tower construction are due by the end of March, Peach said.

The tower could be operating by the end of the summer if construction is finished and final approval has been acquired from the FCC, Peach said.

“It is really a positive thing,” Peach said.

“The tribe has been perseverant on this because we genuinely need it — we are accessing something that everyone else in the world takes for granted.

“This isn't just for convenience but for safety.”

Peach said Tuesday that he had completed Red Cross Emergency Management training and had noticed how helpful cell phones would be in the case of a disaster.

“Right now, we just have to work around that,” he said.

Phone calls to Verizon's public relations department were not answered.

The need for cell phone service is, like the land transfer bill, a safety issue, Cleveland said.

“It is imperative that we have cell phone service to reach emergency personnel in the event of a tsunami,” she said