Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp is scheduled to testify on April 8 before the House Committee on Appropriations’ Interior Subcommittee regarding the growing inadequacy of a seawall that was breached by storm waves at about 7 p.m. on March 25.
Those waves—pushed over the wall by high tides and storm winds—damaged two buildings and flooded several homes in a lower section of the Quinault town of Taholah, a scenic village where the Quinault River flows into the Pacific. The breach and damage prompted Sharp to declare a state of emergency on the reservation.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reinforced 600 feet of the 1,160-foot-long seawall, finishing at about 2 a.m. on March 30. It wasn’t the first time the seawall has been breached, and according to a spokesman in Sharp’s office, Quinault officials are concerned it could happen again—with tragic consequences.
“[The] seawall is no longer capable of stopping the ocean from advancing into our lower village of Taholah,” Sharp said.
Sharp will ask Congress for funding for a stronger seawall and planning for the possible relocation of the lower village. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Taholah has 942 residents, of which 500 live in the lower village. Taholah is the seat of Quinault’s government, and the town has cultural services, public services, schools, restaurants, shops and small businesses.
Elevation ranges from seven to 21 feet above sea level. Some of the storm waves battering the Quinault coast on March 29–30 measured 14 feet, according to the spokesman in Sharp’s office. Quinault and the Corps of Engineers worked quickly to fix the breach and keep high waves from encroaching into the lower village. Sharp declared a state of emergency, issued a voluntary evacuation order and asked FEMA for help.
The Corps of Engineers began work on the seawall on March 28. More than 100 dump trucks brought in a total of 5,500 tons of large rock, riprap and armor stone. The seawall reinforcement cost an estimated $303,000.
The first seawall here was built in the 1920s by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Works Progress Administration, or WPA, replaced that seawall with a timber one in the 1930s. The rock seawall was built in 1978 by the Corps of Engineers.
Quinault officials say warmer temperatures are causing storms of greater intensity—higher sea levels, higher waves, stronger winds—and that the seawall is taking stronger beatings. In January the Corps of Engineers reinforced the seawall with 800 tons of riprap. Still, it was breached two months later.
Sharp met earlier in March with U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, Reps. Derek Kilmer and Dave Reichert, and officials from the Corps of Engineers to talk about the need for a permanent fix.
“All of these officials were very supportive of our long-term plans related to protection of our people from these ongoing dangerous conditions and the funding that will be required to achieve that protection on a permanent basis,” Sharp said.
Regarding the latest seawall reinforcement, Sharp thanked the Corps of Engineers, Grays Harbor County Emergency Services, elected officials, and “all others who have sent their prayers and offers of support…. Our people will be kept safe, and we will continue to seek a more long-term solution to this dangerous situation.”
A two-hour drive north on Highway 101, in the Quileute Nation village of La Push, upland acreage is being prepared for the relocation of homes, school and businesses at risk of flooding from storm events and tsunamis. The school in La Push is located just one foot above sea level.
The upland land was made available by a federal boundary adjustment that returned or added 772 acres to the Quileute reservation in 2012.