Eathquake musings


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This week, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law HB 3309.  Not that she supported it, she did not.  But there were not enough votes to sustain a veto.  This bill was the latest effort by the Coastal Caucus to roll back common sense in the tsunami zone.  While Japan is moving entire towns out of the tsunami zone following the 2011 disaster, the Pacific Northwest is doing little, and even trying to regress in an effort to trade public safety for developer profits.  The science is about as close to airtight as it gets, so this isn’t denial, this is about greed.  In the early years, there was pushback to putting up tsunami signs, and resistance to informing visitors about the issue.  As the awareness has increased, so has the resistance.  Two years ago, the Oregon Legislature gave Oregon State $20m in matching funds to build a school in a tsunami zone.  And as ridiculous as that sounds, the Coastal Caucus and OSU together concocted absurd arguments to build this “demonstration project” to show how to build in a tsunami zone.  A risk was created that did not exist before, and those who wanted the money and development won’t be there, students will be the test pilots.  They worked every loophole and enlisted local city officials to support it and put the building in a very low “risk class” in building code parlance.


The OSU Marine Science building under construction, April 2019.  It’s on a sandbar at sea level in Newport Oregon, and can be overtopped by the largest of the modeled tsunami, as well as battered by the NOAA ships docked just to the left out of the frame.  It’s not often you can take the after picture ahead of time, but this is what it may look like after being destroyed by the next tsunami.  

This week, they took the next step, attempting to roll back basic protections written into Oregon law in 1995 as SB 379.  This bill established a tsunami inundation line, and required approval of DOGAMI (the state geologic survey) to build a variety of significant structures in the tsunami zone.  But as it turned out, the law was full of loopholes that made it virtually toothless.  A DOGAMI staff member said “sure, they bring in the plans for a consultation, I tell them they’re crazy, and they have met the requirement for consultation”.  There were numerous other loopholes that gave free rein to developers, cities and counties to do as they pleased with little restriction.   In the intervening few years, the Oregon legislature also refused to recognize the high-quality tsunami modeling results as the law of the land because the inundation zones were larger than the original.

So, Oregon’s record is pretty abysmal when it comes to legislative action and earthquake-tsunami issues, despite having some of the best science to back it up available anywhere.

The Bill that passed this week was done under the radar.  It was attached to another bill very late in the session, and had no real discussion hearings or debate.  It short-circuited a committee that was evaluating how to revise and improve the original law.  It apparently attracted a lot of support because it was billed as paving the way for the new ASCE 7 building code changes, that included guidelines for building in tsunami zones, as if that were a good idea.   Both Democrats and Republicans supported it.   But as intended, it simply removes the limited protections for coast residents that existed, and if implemented may well result in lives lost for the simple cause of profits for developers on the coast.  It’s pretty discouraging to see such a simple clear scientific result ignored and attacked by the Coastal Caucus profiteers, and even a University.

(The mystery (to me anyway) of the similar language to the old bill was resolve by Jay Wilson who found the legislative style guide, which showed that the material between brackets and italicized was to be removed from the existing law)

Written by eqgold

June 27, 2019 at 4:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. […] Not long after that, in 2015, OSU was given a large donation to build a new marine science building in Newport.  The Oregon legislature matched the donation with $20M to build a “Demonstration Project”, that is, a demonstration of how to build a school in a tsunami zone.  It then became clear why the legislature ignored the new tsunami studies.   Members of the Coastal Caucus pushed a plan to promote development in tsunami zones, and to begin to remove perceived obstacles.   One obstacle to development was and is that essential services, police, fire, medical and schools would be needed.  If you can’t build those, ultimately, development would be inhibited.  So the OSU building was a demonstration of how development could proceed in tsunami zones.  This was done in spite of having safer, better and cheaper sites nearby, and ultimately will put OSU students and staff at risk.   In addition, the “demonstration” does not take into account the increased cost of building in a tsunami zone, which is likely to be cost prohibitive in most relevant cases. […]


    Full Reverse | atquake

    February 24, 2020 at 9:29 pm

  2. Reblogged this on The Life and Times of a Badass and commented:
    So wrong. So very wrong. Intentionally putting people in the path of death and destruction for political and economical gain is ludicrous.



    July 8, 2019 at 4:06 pm

  3. Thank you Dr Goldfinger.. This was certainly under the radar.. Keep us informed, science-wise and politics-wise. You are doing us all a service. Always look for your missives…


    caroline choquette

    July 3, 2019 at 9:00 pm

  4. Common Sense, is not so common anymore.
    And being passed under the radar, happens here in CA all the time.
    Perhaps the schoolchildren can have life vests under their seats, and the teacher can give them the run down on how to don them at the start of ever class…


    Guy M.

    June 27, 2019 at 6:19 pm

  5. We have our proverbial heads up our proverbial asterisks where the Cascadia Subduction Zone and it’s reality’s are concerned. Nothing will change until the survivors subsist on thimble berries. While my preparedness manual, THE BIG ONE, sells well, it is only covering a small percentage of those of us who will be impacted by this impending disaster. Sadly, smarter folks than me know this and would rather profit from our fear and ignorance.


    Vernelle J Judy

    June 27, 2019 at 1:13 pm

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