The Westport City Council got a good first impression of a proposed $15.2 million tsunami evacuation facility when preliminary designs were unveiled during a Zoom presentation to the council late last month.
Proponents hope the massive structure would serve as more than just a “safe haven” for residents and visitors. It’s also envisioned as a landmark and future gathering place for the town’s marina and main tourism district.
“We’re probably still 18 months from knowing if we’re even approved (by FEMA), but we’re moving in the right direction,” said Kevin Goodrich, Westport’s public works director. He addressed the council prior to members hearing from the project’s architectural team.
Funding for the ambitious project is still a question. The city submitted what Goodrich described as a “strong application” for federal funding to FEMA on Nov. 15. If approved, that would account for 90% of the funding from the federal government. But that still leaves the city responsible for the 10% match — or approximately $1.52 million.
Dr. Harry Carthum, chairman of the city committee driving the project, told the council, “There are a number of ways to get that match. The value of the property can be part of the match.” City-owned property near the marina has been discussed as a site.
He also noted the city could turn to the Port of Grays Harbor and the Legislature for some funding.
Should FEMA grant that approval down the road, “We will have to — in the relatively near future — commit to the $1.52 million. So that should be on our radar,” Carthum said.
Prior to turning it over to a team of architects from Rice Fergus Miller, a Bremerton-based firm, Carthum told the council, “It took awhile to get to this point, but it’s looking really good.”
”In my view they have outdone themselves,” Carthum said of the firm’s preliminary design work. “They have created a safe haven of refuge for people to go in the event of an earthquake and tsunami.”
But he also called it a “focal point — the first thing you see as you enter the marina area — and an immense benefit to the business community — a icon for Westport and a landmark for generations to gather.”
The preliminary design submitted by the architects centered around a two-story, open-air structure — with a sanctuary capacity of at least 1,000 people — in case of a tsunami that would double as “a front porch” and gathering place in the marina district.
“That ground level can be many things,” Goodrich told the council, including such amenities as a covered stage, events capacity, landscaping and picnic grounds.
Constructed on a foundation of pilings 5-feet in diameter and reaching a depth of 70 feet, the structure would include:
• Capacity for 1,000 people per FEMA requirements; ultimate capacity 2,000 persons.
• A ramp for accessibility.
• Emergency supply storage for food, water, sanitary supplies and radios.
• Support for public use and activities at grade and as a viewing platform.
• The vertical evacuation structure would have two 5,000-square-foot elevated platforms — the first at 40-feet above sea level.
• Access by one ramp and two stairs, with widths to facilitate emergency access and leisure.
• Viewing and opportunities for history displays or public art.
• A grade-level plaza with raised area for performances and informal use.
• Weather-tight lockers on each level for emergency supply storage.
• Battery power to maintain lights and radios during an emergency event.
• A design that welcomes multiple public uses.
After the presentation — at which the council members expressed solid support and optimism — Carthum said the next step is for the council to make any recommendations this month, nearing the deadline to respond to comments and make adjustments prior to the final grant request being submitted to to FEMA in January.
Carthum asked the council to ponder, “How do we see us coming up with these matching funds, and what direction does the council want to see the site go?”
Goodrich advised the council that he believed the funding issues could be overcome, resulting in a literal and figurative huge future asset for the city, its residents and business community.
”The cost figures can be a little overwhelming,” he said, “but when you think about the investment for the community, it’s a great opportunity.”