One of the most picturesque parts of Washington state is situated in a tsunami danger zone.
The Quileute Tribal School is a small complex of buildings sitting just 10 to 20 feet above sea level in the coastal village of La Push. The little town is at the intersection where the Quileute River flows into the Pacific Ocean.
The big concern is that the school, along with the rest of the lower village, would be destroyed in a tsunami. The school has already been impacted by so-called king tides. The strong tides, which combine with river flow, have caused flooding at the school complex.
The tribe has been trying for decades to reduce its vulnerability to tsunamis. It has worked to move not only the school, but the rest of the lower village to higher ground, including the elder center, tribal offices and homes.
In addition, the Quileute Tribe has been an early adopter of tsunami warning sirens and evacuation plans to get its population to higher ground. While that trip is considered a short drive, the people who live and work here may have as little as 20 minutes to get to that higher ground before a tsunami rolls in from a potential magnitude nine earthquake off the coast. A tsunami of those likes killed 15,000 people in Japan in 2011.
In 2011, Congress approved the transfer of 275 acres of second growth forest from the adjacent Olympic National Park to the tribe, giving it enough land to move the village. Last October, contractors began clearing the first 25 acres for the school. But what the tribe needed was money, and this week it got enough money to build a new school out of reach of tsunami waves.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced it will send $44.1 million dollars to the Quileute Tribe to build the new school. It’s enough to cover the cost of building the school along with contingencies according to a tribal spokesperson.
Construction could begin next spring. But the tribe also needs to finance the rest of the move, which could take many years. The tribe is also expected to conduct a capital campaign to raise that money through donations. Paying off the school covers a major need for the economy dependent on fishing, logging and tourism.