Clatsop County commissioners, facing a standing-room-only crowd Wednesday night, Oct. 14, voted to indefinitely table a controversial tsunami hazard overlay district.
The new district would have applied to the county’s unincorporated regions ― specifically low-lying, near-water areas like Lewis and Clark that are considered high risk in the case of a tsunami like the one expected to occur when the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault line finally gives way again after more than 300 years of silence.
As new information about the possible scope and impact of a Cascadia event becomes available each year, officials and county staff are just beginning to examine what steps the county can and should take to mitigate this kind of massive natural disaster.
But some residents are convinced an overlay zone — an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan — is not the right answer.
After the vote Wednesday, those in attendance burst into applause ― and then left as the commissioners turned to the next item on the meeting agenda. Of the roughly 100 people who attended the meeting, filling up all the chairs and spilling out into the foyer of the Judge Guy Boyington Building in Astoria, most had come to give public testimony in opposition to a tsunami hazard overlay district.
“I don’t think a single person here had problems with preparedness,” said Tom Teflow, who owns 5 acres in the Lewis and Clark area and whose family has lived in the county for four generations. “It’s land use.”
Originally, county staff planned to recommend the commissioners approve the comprehensive plan amendments and add the tsunami hazard overlay district. But when Jennifer Bunch, a senior planner, presented her findings to the board, she changed that recommendation, saying staff now believed the commissioners should table the ordinance.
In recent weeks, staff had fielded numerous phone calls and emails from people voicing legitimate concern and questions about the proposed district, Bunch said after the meeting. Many people were afraid of unintended consequences that could come along with such a district and didn’t feel the possible economic and social impacts had been adequately examined, she said.
“I think we need to take a step back and address these concerns,” she told the board.
Commissioner Dirk Rohne made a motion to table the ordinance. After some discussion, the rest of the commissioners agreed.
“I’d like us, as policy makers, to gather experts and lead an informed discussion,” said Commissioner Lianne Thompson, prior to the vote. Such a discussion is vital, she said, so the community feels that creating a new hazard district “isn’t someone doing something to you, but it’s an opportunity to do something together.”
In other business Wednesday night, the board approved a contract with 2KG Contractors for construction work for the Sheriff’s Office project. The county plans to remodel an existing county-owned building in Warrenton and consolidate the Sheriff’s Office in that location. Currently, the office is located in the same building that also houses the jail in Astoria. The cost of the work will not exceed $1.4 million, according to county staff.
Interim County Manager Rich Mays also introduced interim Human Resources Manager Mark Story. Story’s first day with the county was Monday. He will work for the county on an interim basis, overseeing the county’s 202 employees, until a permanent replacement is found.
Elizabeth Lawless, a human resources director in Kansas, was hired in July after a nationwide search to replace Dean Perez as the county’s human resources manager. But Lawless backed out of the post in late August.