On June 25, Governor Kate Brown signed House Bill 3309 into law. This law repeals the restriction that new essential facilities and new special occupancy structures may not be constructed in tsunami inundation zones. It also repeals the requirement that State Department of Geology and Mineral Industires (DOGAMI) Board adopt tsunami inundation zone parameters. The law overturns a 1995 prohibition on constructing new public facilities within the tsunami-inundation zone.
When the law goes into effect on January 1, 2020, municipalities will be able to build schools, hospital, prisons, other high-occupancy buildings, firehouses, and police stations in areas that will be destroyed if tsunami strikes.
According to DOGAMI’s Interim Legislative Coordinator, Robert Houston, HB 3309 removes the prohibition on construction of certain essential facilities and special occupancy structures in the tsunami inundation zone. Decisions on locating new essential facilities and special occupancy structures within the tsunami zone occurs at the local community level based on community needs.
Rep. David Gomberg wrote about the bill in an open newsletter. He states that DOGAMI is a scientific agency and not a land use, zoning, or building code experts.
“They have no funding for hearings or plan review,” said Rep. Gomberg in his leter. “The change allows DOGAMI to focus on helping collect the best information and then advise and mitigate the risks.”
The coasts of Oregon, Washington, and Northern California are exposed to tsunamis from distant earthquakes (such as the March 11, 2011 Tohoku, Japan tsunami) and local earthquake events. According to Houston, the greatest risk to Northwest coastal communities is from very large, locally generated tsunamis produced by an earthquake (magnitude 8-9+) occurring offshore the coast of Oregon and Washington on the Cascadia subduction zone. DOGAMI has mapped the zones that would be inundated by a tsunami. Within the next 50 years, there is a 15-18 percent of a full margin rupture along the Oregon Coast and a 43-45 percent of a partial rupture along the southern Oregon Coast.
According to Rep. Gomberg’s letter, new understanding of tsunami science indicates the line should now be moved further east. Communities that have spent millions of public dollars to shift fire or police stations inland are frustrated to find them potentially back inside the inundation zone. HB 3309 removed DOGAMI’s regulatory authority and left them with the responsibility to determine where the line is.
There are several sources available to Oregonians to prepare for a tsunami. DOGAMI’s Tsunami Clearinghouse provides tsunami preparedness information for coastal residents, coastal visitors, boaters, kids and educators, community planners and scientists. Oregon Office of Emergency Management provides similar tsunami preparedness information that individuals, business and community members can use to strengthen resiliency. Local county emergency managers are available and provide information to help enhance community’s preparedness for an emergency.
“To be clear, nothing in this new bill requires construction in the tsunami zone,” wrote Rep. Gomberg. “But I have confidence in science and in engineering, and I believe we are learning every day how to better address future risks.”
According to Houston, HB 3309 was a decision made by the legislature to restore flexibility, while ensuring that coastal communities remain safe. Passage of the bill could ultimately provide local coastal communities with an alternative path to improve public safety and resiliency, that may include adoption of the new ASCE 7-16 (Minimum Design Loads and Associated Criteria for Buildings and Other Structures) standard for constructing building within the tsunami inundation zone. Additionally, HB 3309 facilitates continued economic vitality of local coastal communities by linking essential services and the needs of the community together, said Houston.
Rep. Gomberg writes that we need to get over policies that are decades out of date. California and Washington have adopted new earthquake and tsunami building codes developed by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Gomberg will introduce legislation in February for Oregon to move in the same direction.
Rep. Gomberg also writes that we need to adequately fund state agencies that support us.
“DOGAMI needs to clean up their fiscal act and we need to consider moving emergency responsibility out of the Military Department who are focused on response and not on preparation and are ill equipped to network with schools or local government,” writes Gomberg.
Gomberg also writes that we need to invest in science, as well as invest in upgrading our transportation network.