Earthquake hazard buildings may be forced to retrofit

Portland considers seismic upgrade code

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Portland City Council is looking into a new requirement for people who own old buildings. Soon, the city may require them to pay a lot of money to have those buildings retro-fitted to handle an earthquake.

About 1,700 buildings in Portland have been identified by the city to have unreinforced masonry. Those buildings include apartments, businesses, schools, fire stations and churches. Some are in the process of being upgraded.

They were built before 1960, when the danger of a catastrophic earthquake wasn't a priority. Their bricks or concrete aren't secured.

The Bureau of Emergency Management is writing up a proposal that would require owners fix these buildings.

"Some of the things property owners can do is brace paraphets and cornices. They can make sure they have strong solid chimneys and they can also brace the floors of those walls so when the ground does start shaking, the buildings can absorb some of that shock," said Felicia Heaton of the Bureau of Emergency Management.

The city council will vote on the issue by the end of the year. Building owners would have between 10 and 25 years to comply.

Reinforcing those buildings could cost between thousands and millions of dollars depending on the size.

City Liquidators on Southeast 3rd Avenue and Morrison Street is on the list of hazardous buildings. The family company owns six blocks in the area, and says it would cost around $30 million to reinforce all of them, and it would put them out of business.

Emma Pelett of City Liquidators said the work would be virtually pointless because their buildings are in the city's "liquefaction" zone, where in a large earthquake the areas closest to the river would turn to liquid and flow into the water.

While it would mean everyone is safer in the long term, those expenses could pass along higher rents for the tenants, or businesses closing in the short term. The requirement would not affect private homes or duplexes.

Because of the unpredictability of earthquakes, the city says it's in all of our best interests to shore up these buildings. They say you could be walking by one, or live or work next door to one when bricks start falling.

"Having property owners invest in these retrofits would make these buildings safer. It would give people more time to evacuate a building after the ground stops shaking, and then potentially it would save these buildings from being demolished after an earthquake," Heaton said.

Wednesday Oct. 19, is the final tenants forum. The city wants to hear what renters think of the requirement. It's at the St. James Lutheran Church downtown, at 1315 SW Park Ave., at 6 p.m.

Click here to see the map of unreinforced masonry buildings:

Click here to see the list of properties


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