Planners look to new tsunami rules

Building in the tsunami inundation zone might face more regulations if new proposed building rules are enforced by the city. (Photo by Madeline Shannon)

NEWPORT — As part of new regulations proposed by the city, residents of Newport might see greater uses of tsunami hazard acknowledgment and disclosure statements, among other actions. 

One measure local officials might require developers and builders to abide by is a hazard acknowledgment and disclosure statement, essentially a waiver of liability, which would inform developers building in the tsunami inundation zone that their project is in danger of being flooded in the tsunami following the Cascadia earthquake. 

The waiver would protect the city of Newport from any liability if and when private property is damaged within the tsunami inundation zone, according to associate city planner Rachel Cotton. 

“The property owner accepts and presumes all risks of damage and that the city is released from any claims,” said Cotton. “This would be for any development.”

This statement would be accompanied with applications for new development or substantial improvements in the tsunami hazard overlay zone, according to city documents. The waiver could include a statement saying a property in the inundation zone is subject to flooding from the Cascadia tsunami, that the tsunami poses a potential threat to safety, the property owner assumes all risks of damage to the property and that the city and all its employees are, in effect, off the hook. 

However, not all city officials are pleased with the proposed changes to the city’s tsunami inundation zone framework. 

“Why would the city be released from any claims if they had the poor judgment to approve construction and development in known tsunami hazard zone?” asked Newport Planning Commissioner Lee Hardy at the commission’s Monday work session. “Why does the city want to protect itself from being stupid?”

City officials defend the use of the statement when new developers apply for the necessary approvals from the city, saying it’s not a matter of the city being stupid, rather a matter of not having a way to prevent development in the inundation zone.

“Last time, I heard loud and clear from most of the [commission] that residential development was fine,” Cotton said. “They felt okay about that and restricting it was problematic, so we’re moving forward with that.”

At least one planning commissioner supported the use of the waiver, saying the city needs protection.

“That’s protecting yourself,” said Planning Commission Chair Jim Patrick. “Sometimes you ask for things that should be explicitly stated so you don’t have to go argue it in court. There’s no confusion.”

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