Quinault Tribe explores “moving” town of Taholah




TAHOLAH — About two months ago, Marco Black heard the Pacific Ocean knocking at his back door.

“I was in the house at the time,” recalled Black, “The whole house shook.”

The Taholah native was experiencing a severe storm at his waterfront home.  One wave broke the seawall separating the town from the ocean, forcing the barrier to collapse and knocking his smokehouse off its foundation.

More urgent than Black’s smokehouse are all the homes within Taholah.  The town sits in a tsunami zone, and parts of the main community flood three-to-four times a year.

Since the storm, the Army Corps of Engineers has repaired the 36-year-old wall, but called it “a band-aid”, and not a permanent solution.

In search of something long-term, the tribe is pushing for a new tactic, one that has been talked about for decades but may finally happen.

Moving the town to higher ground.

“I think it’s a foregone conclusion,” explained tribal secretary Larry Ralston, “Taholah’s moving up the hill.”

Ralston said land has already been chosen for a new town, and a three-year study to find ways to make the move happen is currently underway.

The main issue is tsunami danger, but the rising tide of the Pacific Ocean is also a major concern.

“It’s not going to be easy,” continued Ralston, “There’s going to be some people that will hold out.  They’ll refuse to leave.”

The main part of Taholah includes around 1,700 residents, the school, police and fire departments, the mercantile, the post office and a retirement home.

It’s also the location of many of the most important pieces of the Quinault Tribe’s ancestry.

“All that will go away,” said Ralston, “It’ll be just a memory.”

Black, whose family has lived near the ocean for decades, admits he’ll lose his land to the ocean one day.  It’s a realization made reluctantly, but with the knowledge there are few other choices.

“It’s kind of my home land,” he said, “We’ve lived here all our life.  If we have to do it, I guess we’ll have to do it.”

It is unclear how much it will cost to move Taholah.  Action by the tribe and federal agencies could be years away, Ralston said.