The Hoh Tribe is moving its village to higher ground, thanks to a bill passed by Congress on Tuesday.

Share story

The Hoh Tribe is moving its village to higher ground, thanks to a bill passed by Congress Tuesday.

Several years in the doing, the bill now heads to President Obama for his signature.

Once signed, the bill will transfer 37 acres of land owned by the National Park Service to the tribe, so it can move housing and its administrative offices — which today sit smack in a tsunami and flood zone — to higher ground.

The village is dotted with houses rammed by floodwaters that besiege the reservation every winter. Living by a mountain river that empties into the Pacific, the Hoh Tribe bears the brunt of nature’s fury, with wind, ocean waves and the river that bears their name chewing away at their reservation lands.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“This couldn’t come at a better time,” said Hoh Tribal Chairwoman Maria Lopez. “I am just so grateful, so overwhelmed.” She said the tribe narrowly avoided flooding during torrential rains last week and knows yet another tough winter is ahead.

The tribe’s reservation was established in 1893 on a square mile of land. The tiny tribe, with only about 300 members, lives in one of the wettest places in the contiguous U.S., drenched by about 140 inches of rain a year. Many tribal homes on the reservation today are encircled by sandbags.

The bill, H.R. 1061, passed the House by unanimous vote in June, and was amended and passed in the Senate in September, again by unanimous vote. The House passed the amended version Tuesday.

While the 37 acres transferred from the Park Service is a small parcel, it is important for this tribe, which will use it to connect other lands it purchased to create a contiguous piece of buildable property totaling 420 acres.

With little available land today outside of the flood plain or tsunami zone, the tribe has been stymied for economic development, and its list of tribal members in need of housing has grown to 60 people, said Bob Smith, general manager of the tribe.

Hardening of the banks of the Hoh in attempts at erosion control, and cutting of timber in the uplands has punched up the fury of flooding of the river, leaving the tribe little choice but to rebuild on higher ground.

Lopez said the tribe hopes to begin that work in the coming spring.

Gaining a contiguous piece of usable land which connects to Highway 101 opens a whole new world of opportunity for the tribe, Smith said. “This is a great thing, a real positive thing for the tribe, we have serious flood issues down here, and now we will be able to deal with them,” Smith said. “We haven’t any property that is buildable.”

The bill prohibits using any of the land for a casino.

“It was just much easier to get it passed that way,” said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, who championed the bill in Congress. “They are great people,” he said of the Hoh. “And they need this help.”

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or lmapes@seattletimes.com