In the zone

All of Gearhart faces threat from the most severe tsunami events.

While legislators in Salem reversed course on tsunami hazard planning, the city of Gearhart became the first city in Clatsop County and one of six along the Oregon Coast to adopt a tsunami resiliency plan.

“It will ensure that safety and emergency buildings are not built in a tsunami hazard overlay zone,” Planner Carole Connell said after the Wednesday, July 3, Gearhart City Council meeting.

The city’s decision comes days after state legislators overturned a 1995 prohibition on constructing new public facilities within the tsunami zone.

The law, known as HB 3309, goes into effect, municipalities will be free to build schools, hospitals, prisons, other high-occupancy buildings, rehouses, and police stations in areas that will be destroyed when the tsunami strikes.

Using maps developed by the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, Gearhart councilors approved an overlay zone with the purpose of differentiating between areas of higher versus lower risk.

The designation will address future zoning decisions and “reflect the community’s risk tolerance and its application of mitigation measures,” Connell wrote in her staff report.

The tsunami resiliency comprehensive plan lays out general policies, evacuation policy concepts and policies related to reducing development risk in high tsunami risk areas.

The plan calls for hazard mitigation planning, education and outreach and encourages policies to “consider tsunami risks and evacuation routes and signage when planning.”

All land identified as “subject to inundation from the XXL magnitude local source tsunami event” are subject to requirements, which could prohibit hospitals, fire and police stations and other structures from being built in the zone.

Exceptions could come when “there are no reasonable lower-risk alternative sites available for the proposed use,” or evacuation measures are provided to minimize risk.

“For example, a new hotel with a vertical evacuation structure built into its roof might get a waiver on building height limitations because of its tsunami-resilient design,” Department of Land Conservation and Development’s Coastal Shores Specialist Meg Reed said in February.

Gearhart received $14,000 from the state to help the city address tsunami evacuation routes and needs, and to identify evacuation improvement projects.

Along with Gearhart, the state is collaborating with 10 other coastal jurisdictions through two federal grants provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on this project, the closest communities being Rockaway Beach, Tillamook County and Newport, with participation as far south as North Bend and Port Orford.

These communities expressed interest in addressing their individual tsunami risk, Reed said.

Department of Land Conservation and Development staff provide technical and financial support to the city to prioritize long-term planning related to the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami event.

By identifying projects now and prioritizing them in a plan, communities will be able to take advantage of grant funds when they arise more readily, such as FEMA hazard mitigation assistance funds.

“The state repealed this; it’s our own law now,” Connell said at the council meeting. “We’re in new territory, I admit.”

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