Tsunami debris: Many unknowns and millions of dollars

September 28, 2012 10:03 pm

GOLD BEACH – There’s plenty of debris and two more docks from the Japanese tsunami somewhere in the Pacific Ocean that may soon wash up on the Oregon coast. 

That’s according to Brig. Gen. Mike Caldwell, who  presented one of the state’s final Tsunami Road Shows on the Oregon Coast in Gold Beach Wednesday.

Caldwell, who heads the Governor’s Task Force on Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris, said one Japanese dock that came ashore at Newport earlier this year has been taken care of.

 

“The bad news, there are two others out there,” he said.

“One was spotted two weeks ago, a 210-foot dock roaming around the ocean,” Caldwell said.

He said fisherman spotted it near Hawaii.

“The third dock, no one has seen. No one knows where it is,” he said of the 210-ton dock.

Caldwell said the dock that landed on the Oregon beach was full of invasive species.

“The governor wanted all agencies communicating with each other,” Caldwell said as the reason he is heading the task force.

“One of the issues for the state of Oregon is the state doesn’t budget for disasters,” he said. “A typical disaster, you have an event and the event is over.”

He said the after a typical disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrives and helps recovery.

Caldwell says this is different. It doesn’t fit FEMA’s model.

“Now, there’s no money for the state,” he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration did come in with a $50,000 grant, which didn’t last long.

David Solomon, safety manager for State Parks, said handling the dock that landed on Agate Beach cost $85,000.

“It is a large debris incident that cleaned up quickly,” he said. “It was a large target that attracted attention immediately,” he said.

But he said there is a lot of debris washing up on Oregon shores that is small and not so obvious.

As usual, there were cleanups on the beaches for normal debris, but there is more debris because of the tsunami.

“Volunteers have been the heroes,” Solomon said. “There were more than 20 small cleanups this summer – triple the normal amount. We moved 20 tons of debris. There are 5 in a normal year. This is something we’ll probably be looking at for years.”

Solomon said that 15 sites have been set up for volunteers to take debris, including Harris Beach park in Curry County.

In addition to the $50,000 from NOAA, he said Japan has pledged $1 million to help with the cleanup.

In other presentations, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife had 13 staff working three days to remove more than 2 tons of material from the dock that washed up to try to prevent invasive species from spreading.

That was buried under 10 feet of sand above the high tide line.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality reported that there has been a lull in debris washing ashore during the summer, but the winter storms are expected to increase the debris.

Concerns have been expressed that some of the debris may be radioactive, but NOAA scientists have been monitoring it and no radioactive tsunami debris has been detected. That monitoring will continue through the next year.

Caldwell said the state has established a special telephone number to report unusual debris - 211.

Anyone finding an object they think could be valuable or could be identified as personal property is asked to turn it in to the nearest Oregon State Park office or call 211 to report it by phone.

Anyone finding litter or other typical marine debris is asked to remove it and recycle as much as possible. If there is a large amount or too much to handle, call 211.

If items are found with identifiers, names or markings, that can be traced back to an individual or has monetary value, the finder is asked to call 211 to report it to make arrangements to return it to Japan.

Potential hazardous materials, such as oil or chemical drums, gas cans, or propane tanks should be reported by calling 211, giving as much information as possible.

Wednesday’s presentation in Gold Beach and one in Clatsop County were the final ones to be presented on the tsunami debris. The task force visited five other Oregon coastal counties in August.