Measure Baker County's seismic faults

March 07, 2001 12:00 am

Last Wednesdays earthquake outside Olympia, Wash., sent shivers up the spines of many Baker City residents.

The magnitude 6.8 temblor was strong enough to force building evacuations in Portland, spook staff at the Geiser Grand Hotel here in Baker City, and even register in Salt Lake City.

Attention in Oregon has focused on Portland, where seismologists can say with some accuracy a powerful earthquake will occur. It is not a matter of if, but when.

Northeastern Oregon is also laced with faults that could produce earthquakes.

The results of a powerful earthquake here are not pleasant to think about. Many of the historic buildings in the downtown core, built from volcanic tuff, would likely crumble and collapse in a quake.

That would be a loss for not only Baker City, but for Oregon. Our historic district represents more than just our heritage. Our states past is preserved here, with the citizens and property owners of Baker City charged as caretakers.

Unlike faults in the Portland metropolitan area, however, little is known about the faults that surround Baker City.

They have produced earthquakes in the past. But how powerful were the quakes?

Are the faults likely to produce earthquakes again in the geologically near future say, the next 200 years?

And if so ... how powerful are they likely to be?

We call on Sen. Ted Ferrioli and Rep. Greg Smith to pursue funding for further earthquake study in the Baker Valley.

Baker City is still home to an office of the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. Scientists here could perform the study, or coordinate with experts or student research teams from a major university to undertake the season or two of fieldwork it would take to better assess the valleys earthquake history.

Other legislators could argue that Oregon is criss-crossed by dozens of faults that shroud geologic mystery just below the soil. That merits study the whole state over, and Baker City would have to wait its turn.

Not all of these faults pass by populated areas and sites of significant historical value, however.

Baker City is both.

And for a sum that rounds down to zero in the face of the total state budget, Oregon could learn more about the faults in the Baker Valley and provide builders and building owners with crucial information about how or if our historic district could survive a quake.