August 4, 2016

Dear Members of the Cabinet and Provost’s Council,

Following broad consultation with numerous individuals and groups, and after analyzing several separate reports, I have determined that Oregon State University’s Marine Studies Initiative (MSI) Building will be constructed on the Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) campus in Newport. 

Throughout the process of evaluating multiple building site locations, including two upland sites, the safety of those who work, visit and study at HMSC during and following a future catastrophic seismic event has been my over-riding concern.

I believe the MSI Building can be built to sustain a 9.0 earthquake and associated tsunami. I also believe this new building can provide a safe and accessible, vertical, rooftop evacuation site alternative for those who are injured, disabled or otherwise unable to reach in a timely fashion the preferred horizontal evacuation site at nearby Safe Haven Hill.  In my view, by locating this new building at HMSC, life and safety prospects and services for HMSC employees, students and visitors will be much improved relative to placing the MSI Building somewhere else. 

As you may know, a number of OSU colleagues and others have raised concerns regarding the geology in Newport and the prospects of major catastrophic natural events, such as a Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) event. In response, I convened a committee chaired by Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Ron Adams. This committee included numerous University academic and administrative leaders, to conduct comprehensive internal and independent third-party assessments of building this structure at the Hatfield Marine Science Center campus or at alternative, higher ground building sites in Newport.

Attached to this message is a copy of the executive summary of the assessment findings and recommendation that I received in late June from this committee.

Additionally, I am providing access to the complete file that contains the information this committee used in its fact-finding and discovery process. This file includes a summary of the MSI program; information about HMSC; summaries of the third-party reports that were conducted; reports from expert OSU faculty; the results of outreach that I, as well as the committee, conducted on this matter; resiliency information that was gathered; and a range of communications and input that were received.

My decision to locate the MSI building on the Hatfield campus is based on a careful consideration of all of the information I have received; a personal visit I made to each of the alternative sites; my own experience in recently walking the evacuation path from the HMSC to Safe Haven Hill; and conversations with colleagues and with individual members of the Oregon State University Board of Trustees. This decision falls to me as part of my delegated authority as president of Oregon State University, but I benefitted greatly from the thoughts and questions posed to me by Board members and many other groups and individuals.

To help understand my decision regarding the MSI Building placement, I offer the following observations:

  • The MSI building itself will be constructed to an expected life of 75 years.
  • The Hatfield campus stands at an elevation of 15 to 18 feet above sea level and sea level changes expected to occur during the 21st Century are predicted to be 1 to 2 feet. The pace of climate change seems even faster than anticipated and sea level rises could be double or triple current expectations. Even so, they would not threaten to flood the Hatfield campus. 
  • The MSI building will be engineered and constructed to withstand an XXL tsunami event, which corresponds to an earthquake of 9.0 or more.
  • The building will be designed to provide a vertical evacuation route and safety space for building occupants and others who – in the event of a major seismic event – could not reach Safe Haven Hill in time to assure their safety. All building occupants and others located in the Hatfield campus area with mobility issues of any kind could benefit from access to this vertical evacuation site. As a result, injury and loss of life would be less once the building is constructed than would be the case if an earthquake of that magnitude struck at this time. Depending upon design features, the vertical evacuation site could provide a safe alternative destination for building occupants and for 100-200 others, including individuals with injuries or mobility problems and those who provided assistance.
  • The internationally accepted best practice for tsunami preparations is to provide for suitable horizontal evacuation planning, preparations, training and evacuation-area supplies. I recently walked with a group from the HMSC Visitors’ Center to Safe Haven Hill, a nearby higher elevation area that has been designated by Newport emergency planners as the horizontal evacuation site in the event of a major earthquake and tsunami. There are multiple paths to the evacuation area which are unobstructed and well-marked, and the trip from the Visitors’ Center can be completed walking briskly in about 13-15 minutes. While the time from early warning to the arrival of the tsunami depends on the effectiveness of the warning, it is believed that there will be an evacuation window of up to 30 minutes.
  • At 70 feet in height, Safe Haven Hill would provide adequate safety from a resulting tsunami that would follow even an XXL Cascadia Subduction Zone event. The top of Safe Haven Hill is quite expansive. It represents more than 50,000 square feet – a little more than the size of a football playing field – and features a major cleared area that is well maintained and could accommodate more than 5,000 people for 48 hours following a seismic event and tsunami. The work that has been done and is planned to provide numerous secure routes to Safe Haven Hill and the site preparation itself, including the storage of food and water, are impressive. This community-based planning is state-of-the art, involves numerous agencies – including Oregon State University – and will complement the training and evacuation planning conducted at HMSC and that will occur within the new MSI Building.
  • The Newport community has invested funds for construction of numerous pathways to Safe Haven Hill; to prepare the site where people would gather; and to begin to store several days’ supplies -- if necessary -- for a large number of people. In addition to other considerations, Ron’s committee recommends plans to reinforce the primary evacuation path from HMSC to Safe Haven Hill to minimize hazards that could be caused by liquefaction, subsidence and lateral spreading.
  • That the MSI building can be constructed to withstand an XXL event and provide adequate vertical evacuation space until occupants could safely proceed to Safe Haven Hill is significant and essential. Effective vertical evacuation must be a condition for the construction project at Hatfield, even if that expense reduces the available space for other purposes. Locating the MSI building at one of the alternate higher ground sites in Newport would provide no greater safety than currently exists for those who work or study at HMSC, particularly for those who are disabled or may be injured in an catastrophic event.
  • The fact that the MSI building could provide a vertical evacuation alternative for those at Hatfield, who are at greatest risk, is particularly important. This is because existing Hatfield buildings will likely not withstand an XXL level tsunami event, even if the estimated $9.6 million currently being sought to cover expenses to satisfy current safety seismic code requirements is secured. These retrofits actually only meet the standards of a lower L level event. No guaranteed source has been identified for that money or additional resources to make existing facilities resilient in the face of a major CSZ event. Other agencies located at Hatfield do not have major capital funds to retro-fit or rebuild their facilities. In short, the MSI building is the only realistic prospect for a vertical evacuation alternative in the near term, and its presence could reduce the risk of harm for many of the up to 900 individuals during peak summer periods expected to work and study at the Hatfield site within the next decade.
  • Although hubris has been the basis for many historical tragedies, we believe we can build an MSI facility to withstand an XXL event. We have some of the best engineering experts in the world at OSU, and they have access to colleagues worldwide who can help maximize the probability of success. But, there are no guarantees. There is additional risk to the building and those who will be working in it of a tsunami event as a result of locating the MSI building at Hatfield when compared to the two upland alternative sites we reviewed. Liquefaction and spreading would be associated with the Hatfield site and not the alternatives.  Nevertheless cost estimates include dealing with those additional costs at Hatfield. All sites, regardless of location, would be subjected to comparable seismic impacts of a major earthquake. Whether the MSI Building is located at Hatfield or on one of the alternative sites, the risks are the same that the building will require major repairs or even replacement.
  • Housing to accommodate Oregon State students at the campus will be located near Oregon Coast Community College and built safely out of the tsunami zone, which will reduce safety risks substantially.
  • Regardless of where the academic building is located, marine studies students will still spend considerable time at the Hatfield site, along the Oregon Coast and at sea to engage in hands-on learning and research opportunities. If an event occurs while students are doing field or laboratory work within the HMSC campus, an MSI Building constructed at one of the higher ground alternative sites will not provide the additional vertical evacuation alternative that a new building located at HMSC would offer.
  • The city of Newport has indicated a willingness to look at any height or other restrictions that would ordinarily limit our construction options at the Hatfield site to accommodate our desire to have a vertical evacuation staging area on the upper level of the building.
  • I am mindful that thoughtful OSU colleagues and others have urged the placement of the MSI building at one of the alternative sites and to ultimately move the entire OSU Hatfield complex to higher ground sometime in the future. That long-term alternative would be attractive from a safety standpoint, but the current synergies attained by OSU faculty, staff and students working with federal and state agency marine science partners would be lost. Some agency employees told me they would interpret our siting on one of the higher ground locations as evidence that they should move their marine activities out of Newport. Meanwhile, OSU students, who are at Hatfield now, indicate that they probably would have gone to school elsewhere if the marine sciences complex were located at a different, higher ground, non-seaside location.
  • In analyzing the information available to decide where to site the MSI building, I have acquired a genuine appreciation and sense of urgency that all of us must work with local, state and federal officials to find resources to retrofit or rebuild existing Hatfield campus buildings and federal or state facilities in the inundation zone.
Edward J. Ray