By Tom Callis
Peninsula Daily News
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The Quileute seek to exchange land at Rialto Beach, which has been the object of a decades-long boundary with the park service, for land in the Olympic National Park to the south of the reservation.
The park land would allow the tribe to relocate several buildings, including its school and senior center, out of a tsunami zone.
The national park land to the south is the only higher ground surrounding the tribe's square-mile reservation.
In April 2007, the tribe opened access to Second Beach -- the parking lot and trailhead are on Quileute land, while the beach is in the park -- after closing it in October 2005 when negotiations went awry.
In August, 2007, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks said, "We're close, but we're not there yet."
Last week, he said no agreement had been reached.
Barb Maynes, Olympic National Park spokeswoman, said that Dicks has asked the National Park Service to assist in resolving land disputes with the Quileute and Hoh tribes.
"In both cases we have done that," she said.
The tribe, located on about 640 acres of flood plain at the mouth of the Hoh River south of Forks, has purchased an additional 425 acres of land over the past year to relocate its village.
On Sept. 25, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair ¬-- who represents the 6th District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula -- introduced House Bill 7073 that would designate the land as part of the Hoh reservation and transfer 37 acres of Olympic National Park property to the tribe.
Alexis Barry, Hoh executive director, said the national park land would connect the current reservation with the newly acquired land.
The reservation was created in 1893 and has stayed the same size since.
Since the bill was submitted at the end of Congress' 2008 session, it will have to be reintroduced in January, Barry said.
"There was a lot of hooting and hollering when we saw the bill," she said.
"It's a big thing for a small tribe."
"There has been a lot of sweat, and a lot of praying, and a lot of crossed fingers."
Barb Maynes, Olympic National Park spokesperson, said the National Park Service assisted in the drafting of the bill upon the request of Dicks.
"We worked to ensure that both parties' interests are protected in drafting the bill," she said.
Barry said the tribe would have to maintain the natural wildlife corridor on the park property and could not use it for development.
90 percent in flood zone
Barry said 90 percent of the reservation's 133 residents live in the flood zone, and that all of the homes are at risk of being destroyed by a tsunami.
Marie Riebe, Hoh Tribal Council secretary, said flooding has increased over the last 10 years because of erosion from the Hoh River, adding that the mouth of the river has moved a half mile south closer to the village over the last 50 years.
Relocating the village to higher ground will keep the tribe out of the way of the destructive powers of nature, which will also hopefully lead to economic development that the reservation lacks, Barry said.
"It's a pretty phenomenal project," she said.
"We've been lucky and blessed."
The properties the Hoh have acquired include:
• 160 acres of state Department of Natural Resources trust land, which was transferred to the tribe in June.
• The 200-acre Fletcher Tree Farm, purchased by the tribe for $750,000 April
• 65 acres purchased from Rayonier Inc. by the tribe for $280,000 in fall 2007.
Barry said the Muckleshoot tribe provided a loan for the purchase of the tree farm.
On Wednesday, the tribe honored the state Legislature and Congressional representatives who have supported the tribe's efforts to relocate the village.
The former tree farm owners, representatives of Rayonier and Resources also were honored at the ceremony.
Representatives of Gov. Chris Gregoire and state Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland were present.
Barry said the ceremony included speeches and gifts such as tribal crafts and photographs of the former village in 1905, before it was washed away by the Hoh River.
"It was very touching," said State Rep. Kevin Van de Wege, D-Sequim, who represents the 24th District which covers Clallam, Jefferson and a portion of Grays Harbor counties.
"The Hoh are obviously very proud and excited."
Dicks said the Hoh have come together as a community to move out of the flood-stricken land.
"It's a team effort," he said.
"This is a big thing to them."
Van de Wege said transfer of land from Resources to the tribe was part of the state's 2007 capital budget.
Barry estimated the land to be worth about $750,000, which couldn't be confirmed by Resources.
The Natural Resources board approved the transfer in March.
State trust lands fund education, mostly through timber sales.
Van de Wege said the land was logged after the state Legislature passed the capital budget.
By transferring the land, the state Legislature and Resources acknowledged the importance of relocating the tribe's housing out of the flood plain, Van De Wege said.
"This 160 acres is best used for the Hoh," he said.
Barry said that, upon Congressional approval of the park land transfer, the tribe could relocate housing in about three years.
"It's going to be a long process," she said.
Barry said that about 20 to 30 people are in the most danger of flooding and would be moved first.
Eventually, at least 120 of the residents will need to be moved.
First, she said, the tribe will attempt to secure funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development to finance the relocation.
Before then, Barry said the tribe would like to have fire and medical services reinstated to the area.
Three years in making
Barry said the tribe has been moving toward this point for the last 20 years, but that the project started to gain momentum about three years ago.
That was when tribal members began meeting with Congressional members, she said.
Though the tribe has acquired the property, developing it without including it in the reservation would be much more complicated, Barry said.
"Having it be part of the reservation is a fundamental piece," she said.
Barry said 60 percent of the 133 people living in the reservation are under 18 years of age.
"It's been a real commitment of the [Tribal Council] and the community to make sure there is a place for the children to be able to have homes and places to work and still be in their homeland," she said.
A dream come true
Riebe said that moving out of the flood plain has been a dream of the tribe for many years.
"We are one step closer to seeing our dream come to fruition," she said.
In December, heavy rains isolated the tribe, which couldn't get out to renew supplies after food spoiled during a power outage.
The Olympic Community Action Program and National Guard delivered 800,00 pounds of food and water to the tribe after the storm.
But Riebe referred to the flooding of November 2006 as "the bad one."
When the river crested, she said, it carried wastewater down the through the village, drowning offices and homes.
Barry said the tribe almost had to evacuate the village.
"We recognized that we've got to get out of there," she said.
The tribal center is lined with sandbags and concrete berms to protect it from flooding.
Riebe said that dredging done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II prevented erosion. The Army used the mouth of the river as a port during the war.
Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or firstname.lastname@example.org.