Tsunami tower in Westport receives $15.2 million federal grant

A new tsunami vertical evacuation tower was funded for Westport.

According to the Washington Emergency Management Division, they recently notified the city that it had been awarded a $15.2 million federal grant to help design and build a new vertical evacuation structure. 

When completed, this would be the third tsunami safe refuge in the state, in addition to the Ocosta school district and Tokeland sites.

According to the state department, more than 50 tsunami refuges are needed along the Washington coast in the event of an earthquake and tsunami along the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault.

Tim Cook, the state hazard mitigation officer for EMD, said he and his team helped city officials navigate the Federal Emergency Management Agency application process and ensure all of the details were polished off before the grant was submitted.

“These structures are really important for not just the city but the state, as well,” Cook said.

There’s already a multi-purpose evacuation structure above a school gymnasium at the Ocosta School District, thanks to a voter-approved school levy. And the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe built a tower in Tokeland, using some of its own funds along with a federal grant.

The city of Westport expects the vertical evacuation structure to become a multi-use facility, potentially providing opportunities for special events and year-round use, according to Westport City Administrator Kevin Goodrich. 

The tower will sit on city-owned property at the corner of Harms Street and Harbor Avenue near the Westport Marina and is expected to have enough room for at least 2,000 people.

Photo from Washington Emergency Management Division

“Our long-term vision for the site is to create a space that is accessible and open to the public, allowing residents and visitors an opportunity to become comfortable with the tower,” Goodrich said. “This familiarity would be very beneficial if the structure is ever needed in an emergency.”

In all, the project is slated to cost $16,756,340 with 90 percent of it covered by the federal grant and the remaining 10 percent required as a match that’s split between Westport and EMD, according to Cook. He added that it’s a reimbursement-based grant, so the grant funding is provided by EMD as Westport incurs project expenses over the life of the project.

“As with any construction project, the actual structure-build can only occur after the engineering is complete,” Cook said. “That work is very complex for vertical evacuation structures so it could still be a year or more before actual ground-breaking.”

The city of Westport applied for the funds in 2020 out of FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant pool. The city had been told they would likely get the funds, but a final determination wasn’t made until November of this year, Cook said.

“It has taken a lot of effort from our agency and our local jurisdictions for these grants to be used for tsunami vertical evacuation structures,” said Maximilian Dixon, the geologic hazards supervisor for the Washington Emergency Management Division. “This is a big win for not just the city and state, but also the residents who will have a safe place to go when a tsunami comes our way.”

Cook notes that the project is in line with multiple studies EMD has done showing the need for more vertical evacuation structures on the coast of Washington.

The Washington Emergency Management Division also recently completed a Tsunami Maritime Response and Mitigation Strategy for the Westport Marina. The strategy included models showing tsunami current speeds, inundation and minimum water depths showing how the vertical evacuation structure would be a key component to the life and safety of residents and tourists in the area.