The Big One in Oregon will be worse
A reader passes along an interesting local angle on the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster story. Here is an e-mail message that the reader says he's received from Gerry Williams, the chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission:
As of yesterday’s reports there were some 1000 dead and another 10,000 missing in Japan. In China a couple of years ago, thousands, many of whom were school children, were trapped in collapsed schools and died. In Haiti and Chile and New Zealand, thousands more have died in the past 18 months!And don't forget the $250 million in lottery bonds for the mystery train from Portland to Milwaukie, Gerry. Money that's so badly needed for things that are real.
[T]wo weeks ago I sent a five-page letter outlining Oregon’s seismic vulnerabilities based on the previous three years testimony before our Commission. What you saw in Japan is nothing compared to what will happen in Oregon. Here are a few of the highlights from that letter (If you would like the original, I would be happy to send it to you – it’s a public document):
-- The 8.9 subduction zone earthquake that hit Japan on Thursday night (our time) had about ½ as much energy as the 9.2 quake that we expect from the Cascadia fault off of Oregon sometime in the next 50 years.
-- 1,170 public schools in Oregon are at a High or Very High risk of collapse in a seismic event – that represents a population of 300,000 students; we are now fixing those schools at a pace of about 10 a year;
-- There are about 1,000 dams in Oregon, many in the coast range, many of which will fail in a major earthquake;
-- ODOT has about 1,000 bridges that will fail in a major earthquake, and currently we are upgrading them at a pace of about 6 a year;
-- Oregon’s prisons have a total of one day supply of water and no excess sewer capacity, both of which will be lost in a major earthquake (though they will have ample food – several weeks or months supply);
-- The main fuel pipelines entering the state from the north cross into Northwest Portland’s "tank farm" where the fuel is stored in massive million gallon tanks. The pipelines are supported by fragile wood piles that date back to the 1920’s, and the tanks are likely to burst (if you saw the fires in Japan at their fuel storage facilities – multiply that by about 10 and you’ll get what Portland will face);
-- Power and natural gas utilities are unprepared for a major earthquake, and it’s likely power will be out for weeks and in some cases months;
-- There are hundreds of unreinforced masonry buildings, particularly in Northwest Portland’s Old Town -- most will collapse or be so structurally impaired that they will have to be torn down;
-- Tens of thousands of people will be injured in an earthquake (thousands will die immediately), but there is no excess capacity in Portland’s hospitals to accept that number of new patients;
-- Lifelines to the Oregon Coast will be shut off, bridges along Highway 101 will collapse, and portions of the roads will be impassable, making much of the Oregon Coast "islands";
-- The Portland Airport’s runways may survive, but it could be impossible to get to the airport from 82nd, 33rd, or I-205 due to bridge failures;
-- Most Port of Portland facilities were designed and constructed before modern (1994 and later) building codes;
-- Most bridges crossing the Willamette River in Portland are not seismically safe – and most are owned by Multnomah County, not ODOT, and are not slated for upgrades any time soon.
An initiative passed several years ago mandates all schools be upgraded in Oregon by 2032, a two billion dollar program. As of this writing we have allocated a total of $15 million with another $7.5 million to be allocated (if the bond sale actually goes through) this spring. The State Treasurer has advised the state that we cannot issue any general obligation bonds without endangering our bond rating and driving up interest rates – making them more costly to finance. So schools, emergency facilities, dams and bridges are just going to have to wait.
However, in the last session, knowing that the economy was still taking a dive, the state used up $200 million of its bond capacity to finance a monument to Phil Knight at the University of Oregon – because Phil gave the athletic department $100 million – none of which, however, could go to pay any of the capital costs of the new Knight Arena.
It’s about values and money – and a guy like Knight who has the money, gets to dictate the values. Because apparently, the Oregon Legislature values U of O basketball more than the potential of losing 300,000 school children’s lives in a major earthquake.