Even though one commissioner expressed misgivings, the Crescent City Harbor District board voted unanimously Tuesday to allow their harbormaster to join the Rikuzentakata, Japan Sister City delegation next month.

Commissioner Wes White said he was concerned about how authorizing Charlie Helms to journey to Japan would be perceived by voters who may decide on a tax measure in November to raise enough funds to help the port pay down a $5.5 million USDA loan and make much-needed repairs.

But, White said, any knowledge Helms could glean about vertical evacuation structures, protective sea walls and other safety measures in Japan would be worth the roughly $2,700 needed to send him there.

“I think it’s more important that the harbormaster who is in charge of this harbor, where a tsunami is most likely to do the most damage, go to Japan,” White said.

While making the case to include the port’s CEO in the Japan trip, Crescent City’s new city manager, Eric Wier, said that then-harbormaster Richard Young was an integral part of the emergency response team during the 2011 tsunami. With its unique infrastructure, the harbor became a focal point for the emergency operations center, Wier said. This included figuring out what to do with the damaged boats, he said, as well as how to notify people that it’s safe to return to the harbor.

Wier also noted that in 2011, Japan experienced an event similar to an earthquake-tsunami generated by the Cascadia Subduction Zone just off the coast. Citing the 1700 Cascadia earthquake, which generated an “orphan tsunami” in Japan, Wier said in 2011 Crescent City experienced the orphan tsunami.

“We’re going to have the experience to go and visit a city that’s gone through it and we’ll be able to be put into contact with those people that lived right through that same event and be able to talk to them about what occurred,” Wier said. “How did you handle the rebuild portion of it. What worked well and what didn’t work well as you dealt with infrastructure, water and sewer, which is primarily why I wanted to go. What did you guys learn and what can we learn from you?”

Wier said Rikuzentakata completely rebuilt its harbor following the earthquake and tsunami. He said it would be beneficial for Helms to learn about the safety measures the city has in place.

While the harbor district would have to pay $2,717 for plane tickets to Japan, other costs, including lodging, transportation and meals in and around Rikuzentakata, will be covered by the Rikuzentakata City Council, according to the harbor district’s staff report.

The harbor district has money in its advertising and promotion budget, roughly $11,000, that it won’t spend by the end of June, Helms said.

Helms said he would like to join Wier and the other emergency officials making the trip to Japan because he would be the public information officer and the incident commander for an emergency that’s centered in the harbor. He said he would also like to inspect Rikuzentakata’s new sea wall and talk with his counterparts in Japan.

Helms said any information and knowledge he gains from his experience in Japan would be shared with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and would aid in the Crescent City Harbor’s resiliency efforts.

“I will see a place that went through a massive tsunami, complete devastation,” Helms said. “I’ve read FEMA books and I’ve read engineering things, but actually talking to the people there and seeing what they did to make sure they’re not going to be wiped out again... What can we do that’ll protect the $54 million investment and what else can we do that will save lives here?”

One member of the public, Eileen Cooper, suggested the harbor board come up with a list of questions about the kind of information they would like Helms to return with from Japan.

Commissioner Brian Stone echoed Cooper’s suggestion and said he’d also like Helms to bring photographs of the different infrastructure he views while in Japan.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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