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Tsunami-zone construction bill prompts backlash at seismic advisory panel

Chris Lehman

A new Oregon law that relaxes rules against building schools, hospitals and fire stations in tsunami zones prompted a backlash Tuesday at a meeting of seismic experts in Salem.

House Bill 3309 removes a nearly 25-year-old requirement that gives Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries the right to deny construction of so-called “essential facilities” in coastal areas that are prone to deadly tsunamis.

At a state capitol meeting of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission, Oregon State University geologist Chris Goldfinger was one of several scientists who testified that the new law puts coastal towns at risk. “And so the communities are just on their own to do whatever they might do, and in the Darwinistic way, sometimes that will go well, and sometimes it won’t,” he said.

The bill sailed through the legislature with just five lawmakers voting against it. Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law in late June. Supporters, including both Democrats and Republicans who represent the Oregon coast, say the current restriction on placing schools, hospitals and fire stations in tsunami inundation zones stifles development in coastal communities by locating critical services farther away from where people live. They say that due to terrain, space is very limited for building inland.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018 and became News Director in March, 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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