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Originally published Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 4:17 PM

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Moving the Quileutes to higher ground

U. S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has brokered a sensible swap of federal parkland that protects the Quileute Indian Tribe from potential tsunamis and floods.

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SEN. Maria Cantwell has brokered a sensible land swap that protects the Quileute Indian Tribe from potential tsunamis and floods.

For decades, tribal headquarters, a school, senior center and several churches have sat on the coastal flood plain near sea level, in the direct path of danger.

Coastal communities in Japan flattened by huge water surges minutes after a massive earthquake just offshore were graphic reminders of the dangers faced by those living along Washington's coastline. Scientists predict a megaquake and tsunami will some day strike the Washington coast.

The Quileutes are a small Northwest tribe that has lived for decades on a square-mile reservation surrounded on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on three sides by Olympic National Park.

Cantwell offers an equitable proposal in the form of Senate Bill 636. The tribe would get 785 acres of Olympic National Park so its roughly 300 members could move uphill. In exchange, 4,100 acres of wilderness would be added to the park. The National Park Service supports the deal.

Congress has adjusted the boundaries of the national park before. In December, the Hoh Indian Tribe was given a sliver of land so it could move out of the tsunami and flood zone.

In recent emergency drills, the tribe has quickly evacuated to higher ground. But the feat is managed with hours of advance notice and coordination. In a real earthquake and tsunami, residents would have minutes to escape.

Public-safety concerns extend to the broader public. The blockbuster "Twilight" series of books and movies has made the tribe's hometown of La Push and its scenic beaches favorite tourist destinations.

The Hollywood-inspired popularity allows a small tribe largely dependent on fishing to improve its economic circumstances through tourism. Cantwell's legislation offers a smart path to higher ground. Good work.

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