Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Letter to ECY on Whatcom Waterway Cleanup...

04.28.2011: As an update to this post, here is the location of the official evacuation procedure for Bellingham in the event of a tsunami.

Far below is the e-mail I sent to Lucille T. McInerney  of WA State's Department of Ecology on the Whatcom Waterway Cleanup. We have until April 27 (tomorrow) to submit comment on Whatcom Waterfront environmental remediation. Although ECY probably can't be said to be directly responsible for Earthquake/Tsunami protection, any work they do will probably be for naught should the predicted 9.0Mw Cascadia Subduction Zone event happen in our lifetimes.  What I think most people do not realize is that the logarithmic Richter scale for Earthquakes makes a 9.0M about 100 times stronger than a 7.0M.  But that really doesn't speak to the difference in energy between two such events. Here's how the current Wikipedia article looks at this issue as they convert some historical known earthquakes into equivalent tons of TNT:

476 kilotons Haiti Earthquake 7.0Mw
476 megatons Sendai Earthquake 9.0Mw
or 476,000 tons of TNT vs 476,000,000 tons TNT 

I lived through the 1989 Loma Prieta  quake (6.9Mw).  I really don't want to experience the aftermath of a Sendai Quake (9.0Mw) quake. What was interesting about the Loma Prieta quake is that we experienced the damage in Oakland and San Francisco, despite the fact that the quake was located 50 plus miles to the south in the hills of Santa Cruz.  After seeing this absolutely frightening video from the recent Japanese Tsunami and reading a number of reports, I was moved to send the letter below.  In many ways the now predicted possibility of a 9.0Mw quake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone makes circumspect any development on our waterfront or Bay. This is an issue currently unexplored by the community of Bellingham.  BTW, Here is your official Whatcom County Tsunami Preparedness Flyer! - about the only serious local Tsunami/Earthquake planning document I could find!

Ms. McInerney:
Congratulations on completing a plan to clean up the Whatcom Waterway!

I would like particular attention in the environmental remediation paid to the potential of a 9.0M Earthquake and Tsunami from the Cascadia Subduction Zone. An (2004) analysis of the effect of a Tsunami on Bellingham Bay is available online. However, since the recent Sumatran, Japanese, and Chilean Tsunami/Earthquakes (8.9M,9.1M,8.8M respectively), additional data has been collected that suggests a potentially much more destructive outcome for Bellingham Bay.  Some corresponding information can be found at the references below. The current literature and research suggests that a 9.0M on the Cascadia Subduction Zone is now imminent.  Seismic scholars like Chris Goldfinger of OSU suggest that such a calamity has high probability of happening within our lifetime. Indeed the Oregon Department of Geology has stated:

19-20 giant (Mw 9+) earthquakes struck the whole Cascadia margin in the past
10,000 years. USGS estimates a ~10 to 14% chance in the next 50 years for these
earthquakes (Peterson et al., 2002, Pure and Applied Geophysics, v. 159, p. 2147-2178).
 Smaller (~Mw 7.6 to 8.5) Cascadia earthquakes occur between the Mw 9+
earthquakes in southernmost part of the subduction zone. These events will
probably be felt throughout the Oregon coast.
 Counting both the smaller and giant Cascadia earthquakes, 40-42 struck in
southernmost Oregon (south of Bandon) in the last 10,000 years.
 There is a strong possibility that the next Cascadia earthquake will happen during
your or your children’s lifetime. [emphasis added -RMF]

In no case, does Whatcom County or Bellingham appear to be a "Tsunami Ready Community".  It seems clear to me that the greatest threat to life posed by the Whatcom Waterway will not be mercury, dioxin, or other toxics. It will be the effect of a Tsunami on this sea level property. In his March 16th, 2011 letter to the NTHMP,  President Barack Obama has commented:

"As we offer our assistance to those impacted by this tragedy, we also renew our committment to ensuring preparedness along our shores. Efficient warning systems and awareness in coastal communities are vital to protecting Americans in at-risk areas of the country. To meet these needs, the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP), a partnership of State and local governments and Federal agencies, is working to reduce the impact of tsunamis through the hazard assessment, evacuation planning, and education outreach.  While the danger posed by tsunamis cannot be eliminated, these efforts can help save lives by equipping citizens to effectively respond to emergency situations."

Although,  ECY does not have any direct responsibility for emergency planning, years of cleanup, mitigation, and public tax monies will be thrown away by the destructive effective of just one large tsunami on Whatcom Waterfront. Recently,  ECY's director has said:

"As individuals and as a society, I believe one of our most basic responsibilities is to pass on to those that come after us a world that is as good as, or better than, the one given to us. Decency requires that we be concerned not just for our own quality of life, but for the quality of life of those who will follow us."

There may be no Whatcom Waterfront to pass on to our children at all if the predicted 9.0M Cascadian Subduction Zone Earthquake and Tsunami occurs. I realize that this concern may fall outside of ECY's typical area of concern. However, as a citizen of Whatcom County, I feel that it is incumbent of me to point out that any work ECY does here can be utterly destroyed in a few short, brutal minutes by such an event.  Therefore, I must ask you to implement Tsunami protection into any Whatcom Waterfront clean-up for both the sake of the environment and the lives of the citizens of Whatcom County,

Thanks for your time,

Ryan M. Ferris
1401 E. Victor
Bellingham, Wa

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