Friday, June 15, 2012

Northwest State Parks facing big bills removing Japanese tsunami debris

By Chuck Woodbury

The last thing the state parks of the U.S. northwest coast need is to spend their already tight dollars picking up and hauling away Japanese tsunami debris from their beaches.

But in Oregon, it's already happening. The huge Japanese dock that washed ashore at Agate Beach State Recreation Area near Newport needs to go. Already, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff, paid contractors and volunteers have removed about a ton and a half of plant and animal material.

Now comes the 66-foot long, 132-ton dock itself. Six companies have bid to remove it, either in pieces and hauling it off, or towing it away. The cost: Low bid $79,922, high bid $240,000. The winning bid is expected to be announced next week.

"The cost is solely on us," said Chris Havel, spokesman for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. "No one else has stepped up to help out. About $20,000 was already spent on other issues before this first wave of tsunami debris began to arrive. This will decimate our budget."

The park system's biennial debris budget for debris removal is $135,000. That covers the removal of dead animals, derelict vessels, plastic and aluminum cans, buoys and other material that washes up. "We don't know if anything big like this will show up again but what we do know is that removing even the small debris will quickly overwhelm our trash systems," said Havel.

The department and other partners are working on a coast-wide plan for disposal of tsunami debris, and exploring longer term funding for the effort, but details are still in the works.

Meanwhile, other Pacific states anxiously await the arrival of the debris on their own shores. By some estimates, the area of the debris field is twice the size of Texas, some of which may be radioactive from exposure to the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility.

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