Tsunami zones pose quandary for development of new facilities


Cascadia earthquakes have an average magnitude of around 9

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Though Oregon’s House Committee on Natural Resources approved new building standards for critical facilities in tsunami zones last week, there is still concern the move could be wasteful.

The 6-1 vote marked the first big step since the 2019 decision to allow the construction of critical facilities in tsunami inundation zones. The move cleared the way for the development of structures of things like urgent care centers and fire stations.

Critics like Rep. Chris Gorsek, of the Portland suburb Troutdale, said the state should have never opened up tsunami inundation zones to important infrastructure, according to the Associated Press.

Most other countries in the world prone to tsunamis have a land-use philosophy in which construction of certain structures are banned depending on their proximity to tsunami inundation. Oregon State University professor Chris Goldfinger told the AP it doesn’t matter how well the structures are built.

“It’s just probably best not to put things into the tsunami zone at all,” he said.

Last year’s decision to move forward with adjusting construction standards involved lifting a ban set in place in 1995. The restriction had prohibited the construction of certain public facilities in inundation zones.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has since decided to recommend allowing buildings in tsunami zones if they’re built to certain standards, according to the AP. The new bill adopts the ASCE standards.

An earthquake in the Cascadia subduction zone, which extends in the ocean off Northern California to Canada’s Vancouver Island, has a 37 percent probability of happening off Oregon in the next 50 years, with a slightly lower chance of one striking near Washington state. Cascadia earthquakes have an average magnitude of around 9, making them among the world’s biggest.

The last time the ocean reared up from a Cascadia earthquake was in 1700.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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