Dicks introduces bill giving some Olympic National Park land to Quileute tribe

By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

LAPUSH -- Congressman Norm Dicks on Thursday introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that, if passed, will transfer 772 acres of Olympic National Park land to the Quileute tribe.

The action is two-pronged.

It provides 280 acres at the south side of the reservation in LaPush to the tribe to develop so that it can move its school, elder center, tribal administrative offices and some homes to higher ground, away from flood and tsunami zones.

It also transfers 492 acres at the northern part of the reservation to resolve a longstanding boundary dispute of more than 50 years with the park, which completely surrounds the reservation.

That portion would remain undeveloped, said Tribal Chairwoman Anna Rose Counsell-Geyer.

"I am extremely excited and look forward to the new beginnings it holds for our tribe," Counsell-Geyer said Thursday, speaking from Washington, D.C., where she had met with President Barack Obama and members of Congress to discuss Native American issues.

Dicks' bill introduction follows action earlier this week that sent to Obama for his signature legislation giving the Hoh tribe, which is south of the Quileute, 37 acres of parkland so that it can move out of a tsunami zone and the floodplain of the Hoh River.

In addition to the land for the Quileute, the bill also designates approximately 4,011 acres in the park as wilderness -- a 4,000-acre tract near Lake Crescent and an 11-acre area near Boulder Creek, a tributary of the Elwha River.

Allowing the Quileute to move out of the tsunami zone and away from the banks of the Quillayute River, is a matter of simple safety, said Dicks, D-Belfair, who represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.

"Children play there, people live there, and we want to ensure their safety," he said.

The Quillayute River has frequently flooded; in 2006, a heavy flood made several buildings uninhabitable until water subsided and repairs could be made.

Many of the tribal structures are in a tsunami zone.

"The Quileute day care facility, the elder center, tribal offices and tribal members' homes are directly in the path of the tsunami that one day will surely come," Dicks said when he ingtroduced the bill.

"Getting the tribe out of danger is of great concern to all of us, and I am very pleased to introduce legislation to help the tribe move their people and infrastructure out of the danger zone."

Counsell-Geyer said that having the ability to move to higher ground would alleviate the worries tribal members live with daily.

She said the tribe would not abandon the lower village but would move many structures out of the tsunami and flood zones.

"The council has to provide protection and safety for our people," she said.

"With the threat of flooding every year, it puts people a little on edge wondering if this was the year it was all going to flood.

"People have to live with that fear -- and have lived with it for decades."

Park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said that Dicks had requested "technical information and assistance in addressing the safety issue for the tribe, and we were very pleased in being able to assist in that way."

Land resolving the boundary dispute will return culturally important property to the tribe, Counsell-Geyer said.

"We are extremely proud that an area of enormous cultural and religious significance to our tribe, such as Thunder Field, will once again become part of our reservation," she said.

"We see the return of Thunder Field as a long-overdue restoration of a wonderful part of our cultural heritage."

The bill does not resolve a dispute over who owns Rialto Beach, which is part of the park.

Both the tribe and the park agreed to set that issue aside while negotiating what land would change hands.

The bill will ensure that access to both Rialto Beach and Second Beach, which also is in the park, is available.

In 2005 and 2006, during negotiations, the tribe, which owns the parking lot and trailhead to Second Beach, shut down access to the beach while it awaited word on the possibility of gaining higher ground.

The exact boundary of the reservation has been disputed along the Quillayute River since a 1910 storm shifted the mouth of the river southward from the shore of Rialto Beach to just off the sand spit near Little James Island.

To determine the boundary, the federal government conducted a land survey in 1914.

The surveyor, while noting the former location of the river mouth, deemed that the boundary of the reservation ran along the middle of the river in its current location.

When the park was created in 1953, the boundary was based on the 1914 survey.

However, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Moore v. United States in 1946 that the entire riverbed up to the north bank belongs to the Quileute tribe.

The Quileute Reservation was established in 1889, based on a survey conducted eight years earlier.

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladaily news.com.

Last modified: December 17. 2010 12:27AM
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