Where’s the best place to put a resiliency station and firehouse?
University professor Stewart Schultz, a former Gearhart resident and author of “The Northwest Coast: A Natural History,” wants the city to reexamine the plan to put the station on North Marion Avenue near the Palisades.
“The High Point site is not in the running as a good assembly area, let alone the best or the ideal,” Schultz said in a four-part, 50-minute YouTube video series. “Why would you settle on a location that’s wide open to a big hit from a high-energy western wave?”
The only safe location in a calamitous tsunami with wave heights of 100 feet is in the eastern foothills, he said.
Schultz said the idea that High Point is the ideal evacuation site is an example of “a neat narrative, something that sounds great, sort of scientific — ‘high elevation’ — but in reality far from it. It’s something that feels good, we’re doing the right thing, it has an animated life of its own that’s hard to counter.”
In 2019, the fire station committee recommended three concepts and locations to the public to help guide the decision-making process, the existing location on Pacific Way, Gearhart Park at Pacific Way and Marion Avenue and the High Point site. A survey indicated voters did not want a station at the park. The existing location is considered at risk of collapse and flooding.
In narrowing down sites, members of the committee relied on state geologic data and scientific trends to prepare for a large tsunami, which encompasses 95% of the possible flood scenarios, consultant Tom Horning, of Horning Geosciences, said in 2019.
A small or medium scenario would encompass only 79% of the modeled wave scenarios, Horning said at the time. At between 62 feet and 65 feet, the High Point site offers the greatest elevation.
Meg Reed, coastal shore specialist with the Oregon Coastal Management Program, called the High Point site “the most tsunami resilient location of the three, and we support the city’s efforts to move forward with this location above 50 feet.”
Gearhart is considering a November bond vote on a new resiliency station High Point, designed to provide a larger, more secure structure at less risk from a tsunami. The project could cost $13 million.
Schultz said the southwest corner of the property at High Point would be 25 to 30 feet underwater in a large tsunami, and would flood roughly 40% of the property.
“People are generally not aware that 40% of the High Point site would be flooded by the very tsunami that Gearhart uses to define its building zone,” he said.
There are no safe assembly areas anywhere along the western dune front, including at High Point, according to Schultz.
The dune crest is wide open to a direct hit from the west, Schultz said. The dune crest would be flooded before lower-elevation optional assembly areas to the east. In the most extreme tsunami projections, all sites in Gearhart would be flooded.
The best assembly areas are on the eastern foothills, above 100 feet, he said.
The “least bad” options in western Gearhart, the state’s optional assembly areas, about 800 yards from the oceanfront on the Summit ridge, and on the first hole of the golf course, offer preferable options to the High Point site, Schultz claims. “These lower elevation sites are safer than the highest elevation points on the dune crest in western Gearhart,” he said. “Simply high elevation in west Gearhart is not safer.”
Schultz proposes storing emergency equipment in Gearhart’s Hertig Station, outside the tsunami inundation zone north of the city.
The lower part of the High Point site was never intended for development, Horning, who serves on the Seaside City Council, said in response. “In my opinion, Schultz doesn’t disclose anything new,” he said. “He recasts what has already been disclosed, but very likely forgotten or overlooked by semiengaged people.”
To survive the most calamitous tsunami would require an assembly area at least 100 feet above sea level. That is about 20 feet higher than the high point of the Palisades.
There is no such location in Gearhart, said Horning, who questioned why Schultz does not discuss the extremely low probability of such a tsunami.
“Schultz makes a great video,” he said. “Smooth narration, good cadence, compelling graphics. I think he should acknowledge that the city has a problem, as has been determined by the steering committee, which takes in more than just resiliency. He should advocate for a new station. ... One is left wondering if he is just part of the ‘not in my backyard’ mentality of western Gearhart. Survival and resiliency are the targets.”
Schultz hopes the city and residents pay attention.
“Two years ago I wrote a series of letters to City Hall on these subjects and offered my services, before there was any final decision,” he said. “I received no substantive response. This lack of response was one reason I decided to record some videos: I believed that if the city is not interested in my input, the public might be, and might find a video format engaging.”