It was everything Earth Day in Cannon Beach last weekend.

While many communities may commemorate Earth Day April 22, organizations in Cannon Beach have, for the past few years, started nearly two weeks early. They bring in speakers, conduct potlucks, throw a parade and town fair and explore the city’s relationship to the earth.

Saturday’s Earth Day speakers discussed Oregon’s efforts to prepare for a massive earthquake and how the coast could be affected by climate changes.

On Sunday, the mood changed from worry over potential disaster to an artist’s contemplation of a personal journey with migrating salmon.

Kent Yu told a small group Saturday afternoon that the North Coast isn’t the only section of Oregon planning for a magnitude 9 earthquake; state agencies are required to produce a “resiliency plan” for all of Oregon.

Yu is chairman of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission. The commission is nicknamed the “earthquake commission.”

The commission’s mission is to increase public awareness about Oregon’s potential for earthquakes; determine the risk that essential buildings, such as hospitals, schools and government buildings have for collapsing; and to support efforts to retrofit those buildings so citizens will be protected and the economy can recover rapidly after a disaster.

The resolution calls for the state to be “earthquake resilient” by 2062, Yu said.

Goals also call for initial responses to occur in communities affected by earthquakes one to seven days immediately following the event. Within 60 days, workforce housing would be available, and within three years, all reconstruction in the community should be completed.

The commission also is overseeing the Oregon Resilience Plan, required by House Resolution 3, adopted by the state Legislature last year. Sponsored by State Rep. Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach, who is a member of the earthquake commission, the resolution requires a plan to “protect lives and keep commerce flowing during and after a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami on the Oregon Coast.”

Richard Reed, special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for resilience, commended the resolution after its adoption.

The Cascadia resilience plan is due to the Legislature by Feb. 28, 2013.


Coastal communities will become isolated from urban centers when the offshore Cascadia earthquake hits, Yu said. They may have to depend on the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Coast Guard and seaports for rescues because roads could be blocked for months.

Zoning and land use policies should be reviewed, Yu said. “Does the current zoning make sense in the perspective of a tsunami?” he asked.

Buildings constructed of wood don’t survive tsunamis, he added. At least one-third will collapse in a 6-foot high tsunami wave, and if the wave reaches 12 feet high, 100 percent of the buildings could go. In some parts of Japan, the tsunami reached 130 feet high – as large as a 13-story building – following a magnitude 9.0 earthquake last year.  

Yu said that buildings constructed of reinforced concrete withstood Japan’s earthquake and tsunami much better than wooden buildings. He also suggested that vertical tsunami evacuation buildings be considered or that earth berms, built high enough to avoid tsunami waves, be constructed for potential escape. Access would be by stairs and ramps.

Yu pointed out that 92 percent of the deaths during Japan’s disaster were caused by drowning and that only 4.4 percent were caused by being crushed in the earthquake. Sixty percent of those who died were more than 60 years old.

Although the state commission and state agencies are working on resilience plans, local communities need to have their own plans, both for residents and businesses, Yu said.

“You need to have brutal, honest discussions about this,” he added. “We can do only so much. At the community level, it’s all yours.”

Even if a tsunami doesn’t hit Cannon Beach, the tides are rising because of climate change, said Saturday evening’s speaker, Allen Solomon, of Coos Bay.

Solomon is a retired global change researcher for the U.S. Forest Service and former White House policy analyst. He is a board member of the Oregon Shores Conservation Commission, which assists communities in preserving the coast’s natural resources.

More carbon dioxide is entering the atmosphere every year, causing temperatures to rise, Solomon said during his presentation.

With the rise in temperature, the earth is experiencing large storms more often than in the past, and flood damage is greater, Solomon said. Wave heights reached highs of 30 feet in 1975; but now they can rise to 40 feet. Average sea level heights are rising from .09 to .10 inches a year, he said.

As a result of higher sea levels, erosion is occurring, said Solomon, who showed slides of locations along the Oregon coast where the ocean has bitten off former shoreline cliffs.

For every foot of rise in sea level, the waves reach 100 feet inland, Solomon said.

“We are likely to lose our beaches fairly quickly,” he added.

With the rising ocean level, more acid comes to the surface. That means the loss of plankton for fish to feed on and a reduction of oyster larvae, said Solomon. In Quilcene, Wash., a 60 percent mortality rate of oyster larvae occurred in 2008 and an 80 percent rate in 2009, Solomon said.

Land-use changes needed

To adapt to climate changes, there must be a “change in the way we use the land,” he said.

Local “vulnerabilities” should be identified and buildings should be prohibited in areas likely to be inundated, Solomon added. To plan for erosion, setbacks must be considered. He suggested “rolling easements” that require structures to be mobile so they can be moved as erosion occurs.

“Some people call it a very gradual tsunami,” Solomon said about the rising sea level. “But with a potential rise of 15 to 20 meters in 50 years or in a century, we’re going to come out the same as we would with an actual tsunami.”

But discussions of tsunamis and rising ocean levels weren’t the only topics that filled the first Earth Day weekend. Artist Lillian Pitt, whose works appear at the Northwest by Northwest Gallery, spoke during a potluck to celebrate the salmon about how her relationship with the environment affects her art.

The potluck was a fundraiser to raise money for a statue called “Salmon’s Journey,” created by Pitt and fellow artist Aaron Loveitt. The statue has been temporarily placed at the Tolovana Wayside, but a local group, Friends of Tolovana Wayside, wants to purchase the statue as a permanent placement. So far, $7,000 of the $10,000 purchase price has been raised from donations by the city’s public arts committee and private donations.

The statue is a basalt rock, standing about 8 feet high, ringed with a ribbon of steel salmon on their journey to spawn. Petroglyphs are etched along the back of the rock.

During her talk at the potluck Sunday evening, Pitt said the statue was inspired by an experience her brother once had. He was upset about something at the time, and, while walking along a stream, he observed two mating salmon. Once the mating was completed, the salmon relaxed and broke apart. Their journey had come to an end.

“He said it was like they were saying, ‘Now we can let go,’” Pitt said. “My brother had an epiphany.”

Pitt thanked the group for donating funds to buy the statue and also for nurturing a vision that Chisana Creek, which is enclosed in a pipe under the Tolovana Wayside parking lot, may one day run free. Jean Williams, who chairs the Friends of Tolovana Wayside and began the fundraising effort to buy the statue, hopes that a portion of the parking lot at the wayside can be removed so the former salmon stream can be exposed.

“The salmon will come back to the stream and they will tell their friends,” Pitt said.

“We’re all on this journey,” she added. “Jean started me on this journey.”