Land-Use Planning for Volcanic Hazard Areas in Pierce County


Land-Use Planning for Volcanic Hazard Areas in Pierce County


One of the things that most concerns the scientific and emergency planning communities is the number of people living in hazard areas, as well as the number of people moving into these areas. Experts agree that the best way to keep people and property safe is to keep them out of the danger zones. Land-use planning is one of the best forms of mitigation and is supported and encouraged by funding agencies such as FEMA (FEMA, 12/97).

To help reduce the number of people in hazard zones, the Pierce County Planning and Land Services Department has recently implemented a number of land-use policies.

Critical Areas Ordinance
The county implemented an ordinance in 1991 to stop the building of critical facilities in areas of high or moderate risk from lahars. However, critical facilities can be built in low risk areas if the structures are designed to withstand the effects of mudflow equal to that of the Electron Mudflow (Cardwell, 6/98).
They have identified critical facilities as:
  • hospitals or medical facilities having surgery and emergency treatment areas
  • structures containing sufficient quantities of toxic or explosive substances
  • structures whose primary occupancy is public assembly
  • buildings for schools or day-care centers with a capacity of over 250 students
  • buildings for colleges or adult education with a capacity of over 500 students
  • medical facilities with 50+ resident incapacitated patients
  • jails and detention facilities
  • any structures with occupancy of greater than 5,000 people (Cardwell, 2/98)
This policy affects county property only - not the cities within Pierce County, nor does it apply to existing critical facilities. The town of Orting put this policy to the test when they wanted to build a new high school on county property. After several meetings, much debate, and a good deal of publicity, it was decided that the new school would not be built.
Housing Density
In 1990, Washington State decided they needed to implement a growth management policy to limit development throughout the state. Because of this policy, Pierce County passed an ordinance stating that development be limited to 4 homes per every 1 acre in urban areas and would range between 1 home per every 5 acres to 1 home per every 10 acres in rural areas. Areas in Upper Nisqually Valley, including the communities of Ashford and Elbe, will soon be limited to 1 home per every 40 acres (Cardwell, 6/98).
In addition, the Mitigation Committee is recommending that development in areas of high risk from lahars be limited to non-residential building only (Cardwell, 2/98).
Passing an ordinance to limit developing in hazard areas is the only way to keep people out of these areas. Development in these areas would mean even more people would have to be evacuated and would put that many more lives and property at risk. This is the same theory that many states used regarding floodplain development.

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