Tsunami-zone construction bill prompts backlash at seismic advisory panel

Jul 9, 2019

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.

The Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission meets in Salem.
Credit Chris Lehman / KLCC

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.