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The cities of Rockaway Beach and Gearhart recently became the first communities on the north coast to adopt land use regulations addressing their local tsunami risk, and other cities such as Lincoln City will soon be following suit.

Another coastal town, Port Orford, recently adopted tsunami land use regulations at their July City Council hearing. There are now seven communities on the Oregon Coast with locally-adopted tsunami hazard overlay zones, whose work has been supported by Federal grant money awarded to the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD).

Through two federal grants totaling $530,000, DLCD has been working with eleven coastal communities in preparing for a local Cascadia tsunami. The project, which began in August 2017, has resulted in more detailed pedestrian tsunami evacuation maps, comprehensive evacuation planning, and innovative land use strategies tailored to each participating community’s tsunami risk.

The tsunami hazard overlay zones focus on two main approaches: prohibiting critical and essential facilities from being built within the riskiest of tsunami zones; and incorporating evacuation improvements as a requirement of new land divisions being sited within the tsunami zone. The provisions do not apply to existing development or to single family dwellings on existing lots or parcels.

In Rockaway Beach, Gearhart and Port Orford, local leaders and citizens have been working together with DLCD staff to learn about their community evacuation vulnerabilities and to identify land use tactics to minimize the loss of life and property from a catastrophic tsunami. These efforts led to the eventual adoption of new tsunami hazard overlay zone provisions in June and July.

Rockaway Beach also completed a Tsunami Evacuation Facilities Improvement Plan (TEFIP) to identify both existing and needed evacuation facilities, such as wayfinding signage, pedestrian paths, and bridge retrofits. DLCD has been leading this effort with each community in partnership with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI).

“The adoption of the TEFIP and tsunami hazard overlay zone is an important first step towards creating a more resilient Rockaway Beach," said Terri Michel, City Manager for Rockaway Beach. "As we spoke with members of the public during the planning process, we found that there is very strong support for the City to increase tsunami preparedness and resilience in our community.

“The TEFIP and overlay zone will help guide the City as we move forward with evacuation route improvements, new wayfinding signage, education and training programs, and relocating our critical facilities.”

The resources provided by these project grants are supporting community planning efforts specific to the tsunami hazard, such as identifying evacuation route improvements and thoughtful development siting and design.

“I’m very proud of the work our planning commission and our city council has accomplished with the help of DLCD to lead the way on the north Oregon Coast and help mitigate the threat of natural disasters,” said Gearhart Mayor Matt Brown, “It’s very important that our residents and visitors have every chance to find safe evacuation routes in case of a Cascadia event and that we have critical infrastructure in place to become resilient in the face of all natural disasters.”

Both Rockaway Beach and Gearhart are currently looking to relocate some of their essential facilities outside of the riskiest tsunami zones in order to ensure those facilities are useable after a local earthquake and tsunami event.

“It is important for communities to have the ability to recover and care for their displaced residents and tourists after a local tsunami event,” said Meg Reed, coastal hazards planner for DLCD. “We are helping communities identify their most vulnerable areas and plan to their community’s acceptable level of risk, in order to improve evacuation and recovery success in both the short- and long-term. This planning may look different in each coastal jurisdiction.”

Coos County, Reedsport, Florence and North Bend are the coastal communities that have already adopted tsunami hazard overlay zones. The communities of Lincoln City, Newport, Waldport and Tillamook County are other jurisdictions currently working with DLCD on this tsunami resilience grant project, due to be completed in June 2020.

In combination, these projects will provide a significant foundation for advancing the ability of Oregon’s coastal communities to plan, prepare and recover from a local source tsunami event.

The federal grant money comes from two programs within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management: Projects of Special Merit and Coastal Resilience Grants.

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