Will Seaside voters OK tsunami-zone school bond?

3 Seaside schools are in the danger zone of an earthquake-generated tsunami

Seaside High School, Jan. 7, 2016 (KOIN)
Seaside High School, Jan. 7, 2016 (KOIN)

SEASIDE, Ore. (KOIN) — Hundreds of students’ lives are at stake — that’s what supporters of a Seaside School District bond measure say.

The $99.7 million bond issue on the November ballot would fund new school building, move schools to higher, safer ground and will protect students from the tsunami that will overwhelm the Oregon coast in the event of a massive earthquake.

With one possible exception—the similarly unlucky town of Long Beach, Washington—no other place on the West Coast is as imperilled by the Cascadia subduction zone as Seaside. When the earthquake hits, the continent will jolt westward into the Pacific, displacing an enormous amount of ocean. All of that seawater will be forced upward into a massive liquid mountain, which will promptly collapse and rush back toward the shore. That’s the tsunami, which will flood the coastal region up to a mile and a half inland and to a depth of twenty, forty, even a hundred feet, depending on your precise location. The area that will be swamped is called the inundation zone; within it, tsunamis are essentially unsurvivable.  — Kathryn Schulz in the November 4 edition of The New Yorker

Earlier this year, the Seaside School Board unanimously OK’d the plan, bringing it to the voters this election cycle. The bond fact sheet urges voters to consider the all-time low interest rates, materials used should keep the schools intact for 75 years, and the district may get $4 million in state funding if voters approve this bond.

A similar but more expensive proposal in 2013 — for $128 million — was defeated.

There are 4 schools in the tsunami zone in the state, and 3 are in Seaside — Gearhart Elementary, Broadway Middle and Seaside High.

“There’s no way to tell when it’s going to occur,” said longtime Seaside superintendent Doug Dougherty, who spent 25 years trying to get this district prepared.

“There’s a high likelihood it will occur within the next 50 years. That’s kind of terrifying to hear,” he said. “It is something we need to be prepared for and we currently are not.”

Dougherty was the first principal in the entire country to mandate tsunami school evacuation drills. He believes passing this bond measure could save hundreds of lives.

Right now, Gearhart Elementary doesn’t have an evacuation route, and the other schools plans aren’t much better.

“We basically evacuate as quickly as possible. In order for the high school to evacuate they have to go about a mile-and-a-half across bridges that may or may not be standing,” Dougherty said. “And they have to do it in a very narrow window of time, about 15 maybe 20 minutes.”

Then they have to climb up a mountain side to a safe elevation, all while knowing a deadly wave is coming any minute.

Bond-funded new schools would be built on that hillside within 4 years, clearing a tsunami. If passed, the bond will cost the average Seaside homeowner about $350 per year.

 

The view from Seaside High School, November 7, 2016 (KOIN)
The view from Seaside High School, November 7, 2016 (KOIN)