Tribal officials said they appreciated the move by Congress, adding that a 5.7-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Vancouver Island earlier this month served as "an ominous reminder" of the threat facing the Quileute village in La Push, Clallam County.
WASHINGTON — The Quileute Tribe’s oceanfront schoolhouse — along with offices and homes — appears headed to higher ground, and tribal officials are grateful.
With Congress signing off on a plan to transfer 785 acres of federal parkland along the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Washington state to the tiny tribe, tribal members will be allowed to move portions of their village out of the tsunami zone.
The Senate voted unanimously Monday night to approve the legislation, sending the measure to President Obama for his signature. The bill cleared the House of Representatives last week.
Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks, both of Washington state, had pushed hard for the legislation, arguing that the coastal tribe faced imminent danger and needed to be moved to higher ground immediately.
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Tribal officials said they appreciated the move by Congress, adding that a 5.7-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Vancouver Island earlier this month served as “an ominous reminder” of the threat facing the Quileute village in La Push, Clallam County.
Cantwell noted that the vote came 11 months after a tsunami struck Japan, adding that members of Congress “have finally done our job.”
“It is important in times like this that Congress does act, that we break gridlock and move forward,” Cantwell said in a speech on the Senate floor.
The Quileute reservation consists of one square mile of land, surrounded by the Olympic National Park, with many areas that are steep and unbuildable. The tribe’s school, offices and homes are right next to the ocean.
“Every day, 80 students go to a school and a schoolhouse that is just 1 foot above sea level,” Cantwell said. “And every day they look directly out the window at the roaring waves of the powerful ocean and wonder when they can move to safer, higher ground.”
Dicks called the tribe’s reservation “spectacularly beautiful” but also “a dangerous place to live.”
The tribe is perhaps best known for its role in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels, which resulted in subsequent films. According to the tribe’s legend, a wandering transformer changed the Quileutes from wolves. The story inspired Meyer’s writings and one of her characters, Jacob Black, and draws many “Twilight” fans to visit the reservation.
Quileute Chairman Tony Foster said he was “overwhelmed with emotions and so grateful that our tribe will actually be able to move our elders and children out of the path of a tsunami and up to higher ground.”
In a statement, Foster said, “The need for this legislation could not be greater.” He predicted that a tsunami is sure to come sooner or later.
“When — not if — a tsunami comes, the devastation and loss of life in La Push will be horrible,” he said, adding that Congress was taking a “historic first step” toward protecting the tribe.
The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent, with no recorded vote. It passed the House by 381-7 on Feb. 6.
The land transfer required a reversal by Congress.
Republican Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the land that would be transferred to the tribe excluded park-owned facilities or trails, giving park visitors few opportunities to use it.