All of Washington’s coast is in the Cascadia earthquake subduction zone, and much of it is in a tsunami inundation zone. Research shows that sea-level rise can significantly increase the hazards of tsunamis. FEMA estimates coastal Washington needs more than 50 vertical tsunami evacuation towers at least 50 feet tall which people can climb for safety within minutes of an earthquake. If that isn’t bad enough, portions of the coast will be permanently submerged by rising seas.
The village of Taholah already floods with seawater several times a year. To survive, it must be relocated 800 feet above its current location. La Push, Queets, Hoh and Neah Bay must also be moved to higher ground. That means the schools, health centers, and post offices; all the housing – everything.
Many of the elders will be allowed to stay in place until they die. But the children and younger families don’t have a choice because ocean waters are steadily rising as a result of the climate crisis.
Jim Antal states in Climate Church Climate World, “Climate justice is amplifying all other injustices… We have set in motion global conditions which assure that the people least responsible for the problem will suffer most from the consequences.”
What Antal calls environmental injustice, others call environmental racism. And these Olympic Peninsula inhabitants who are members of the Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, and Makah nations are victims of it. Most of them struggle financially and are dependent on salmon fishing for their livelihoods. But ocean acidification and warmer waters have decimated salmon stocks.
The Olympic Peninsula gets 100-140 inches of rain annually, and many Hoh residences and the tribal center are surrounded by sandbags year-round. Congress transferred 37 acres of contiguous and higher, buildable land from Olympic National Park to the 1 sq. mile Hoh reservation in 2010 and 785 acres to the 1.5 sq. mile La Push Quileute reservation in 2012.
The Quileute subsequently secured a US Bureau of Indian Affairs grant to relocate the tribal school, and the Quinault are currently building a new senior services/head start facility at Taholah’s new, elevated site. But relocating a village is an enormously expensive undertaking.
US Representative Derek Kilmer’s (D-Port Angeles) bipartisan Tribal Coastal Resiliency Act (H.R. 729) could help make it possible. First introduced in 2015, it was approved in the House in December by a 262-151 vote. Unfortunately, it’s languishing in the Senate.
So, there’s no happy ending. At least, not yet. Perhaps mañana, if enough people demand a helping hand and equitable opportunities for the indigenous peoples of our awe-inspiring coastal habitat. Please contact your Senators and urge them to approve HR729.