Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp testified before the U.S. House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday, speaking in part on the need for adequate funding to relocate the community of Taholah to higher ground, create additional roads to access the village, and support for drug interdiction.
Sharp asserted that the federal government has a binding trust obligation to provide funds and services to the tribes.
“In more recent years, the United States has continued to fall short of meeting its treaty obligations as appropriations cuts, sequestration, inflation and other factors impede the federal government’s ability to meet its trust responsibility. As a result, Quinault spends $5.9 million annually to supplement lapses in federal funding,” she said.
Sharp spoke about the need for funds to move the lower village of Taholah, which is adjacent to the ocean, to higher ground because of the risk of a tsunami.
“Due to natural disasters the lower village of Taholah is no longer a safe place and we are taking steps to relocate to higher ground,” she said. “Our K-12 tribal school, our child care center, our Head Start program, and our senior housing center are located in the lower village and have less than a 15-minute evacuation window in the event of an earthquake or tsunami. This puts our children and elders at extreme risk. Further, many of our emergency services such as fire, public safety and EMS/ambulances are also located in the lower village. Quinault cannot take on this endeavor alone, and we urge the subcommittee to address these important safety issues.”
In 2013, the tribe received a $700,000 grant from the Administration for Native Americans to develop a comprehensive master plan for the move. The master plan illustrates a new village that will provide for about 320 sites, including single family and multi-family homes, cottages and transitional housing. The plan also identifies locations for a school, community center, museum/cultural center, churches, offices, police, fire and emergency services buildings and assisted living facilities. Parks, open space, and trails are also planned. The Master Plan calls for the protection of the existing wastewater treatment plant with an armored berm to shield it from a tsunami.
“However, the area planned for development is largely without basic infrastructure,” she said. The project will create jobs on the reservation, and the tribe will provide the job training and certification necessary for Quinault members to obtain employment during the construction phases of the relocation project.
“We are also designing a biomass and district heating facility that will be located in the energy park that will provide heat for community buildings in the new village,” said Sharp. In addition to other plans, the energy park will eventually include a solar array providing electricity in the event of an earthquake or tsunami.
Sharp said exit and entry access to the village of Taholah, where Quinault’s government offices are located, is limited to a single highway, and access is cut off during natural disasters and weather events.
“This is a serious concern for our people. When access is cut off, emergency vehicles are unable to reach or leave the villages. The lack of adequate emergency response recently contributed to the death of an elder. Our community remains vulnerable to similar emergency response failures if we do not address this critical concern,” she said.
She proposed that a link be established with an 8.2-mile service road, known as BIA Road 29 or McBride Road, primarily used for forest management and harvest activities, to a nearby highway to create two exit and entry points to Taholah. The estimate for the project is $3.5 million for road construction and improvement activities once either the lands or the right-of-ways are acquired.
She applauded the inclusion of $30.3 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs Road Maintenance Program to address the transportation safety concerns of tribal communities and asked that the funding in 2018 be maintained. “We also urge the subcommittee to include report language giving funding priority to tribes with safety and emergency access concerns,” she said.
The Quinault Nation Reservation is remote and includes more than 200,000 acres of forest land, over 200 miles of interior roads, and 25 miles of undeveloped coastline.
“This setting offers many secluded entry points onto the reservation for organized criminal enterprises that have plagued our community. Highway 101 passes through the reservation and is a major route for drug trafficking,” she said. “Drug trafficking and cartel activity continues to be a serious and ongoing challenge for our drug interdiction efforts.”
Sharp said the tribe needs a larger and better detention facility and more police and corrections officers to combat the continuing problem of drug use among its members. The tribe invests $970,000 in tribal funds annually into law enforcement activities, including drug interdiction, but the amount is inadequate to address the problem, she said.
“The Quinault Indian Nation is taking steps to build a brighter future for our people. We are guided by our traditions and deep desire to control our own destiny. We are doing our part to improve the lives of our people and to create opportunity on the reservation, but we can’t do it alone,” Sharp said.