September 2, 2012 in Region

Oregon volunteers prepare for debris

Winter storms will bring more tsunami trash ashore
Jessie Higgins The World, Coos Bay, Ore.
Associated Press photo

Mary Johnson, the general manager at Washed Ashore, is shown Wednesday with a piece of foamlike material that may be insulation and tsunami debris in Bandon, Ore. Washed Ashore is a nonprofit group that makes artworks out of collected ocean debris.
(Full-size photo)

COQUILLE, Ore. – In early June, a big dock splashed ashore in Oregon, confirming everyone’s suspicion: Tsunami debris had arrived.

Now, officials say, the worst is yet to come.

Winter storms always drive piles of ocean trash onto Oregon’s beaches. This year, they will carry debris from the 2010 Japanese tsunami.

Scientists predict most of the debris will be small items, easy for volunteer beachcombers or hired workers to remove by hand.

Still, at a community presentation Wednesday in Coquille, members of the Oregon Tsunami Debris Task Force told a group of Coos County residents the state is gearing up to battle the wave of trash that’s on its way.

“There are two more docks out there” similar to the Japanese dock that washed ashore on Agate Beach, said Gen. Mike Caldwell, director of Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management.

“We got lucky with the first. Agate Beach is probably the most inexpensive place it could land.”

Agate Beach, off Newport, is easily accessible by foot or with machinery. It also is near Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, which houses marine scientists who could help the state study the dock.

Removing the first dock cost the state $85,000.

“Now, think of some of the other places it could have landed that are more difficult to get to,” Caldwell said.

The Oregon Parks Department has taken the lead on tsunami debris issues. So far, it has spent about $300,000. Its annual budget is about $120,000.

The task force has applied for an array of federal grants, hoping to recoup that money and fund the remaining cleanup.

But even with more money, the state will rely on volunteers for beach-cleaning manpower.

“As native Oregonians, we pride ourselves in having the cleanest beaches in the country,” said Gus Gates, Oregon policy manager at Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect the world’s oceans and beaches.

“If you walk on the beach, it is easy enough to take a bag with you and take away anything that doesn’t belong.”

The parks department has established several tsunami debris disposal bins in high-use areas, including Sunset Bay State Park. It also established a hotline to call with debris-related questions: 211.

Multiple volunteer organizations already are working to keep Oregon beaches clean.

SOLVE, a nonprofit, has organized Oregon beach cleanups since the mid-1990s. Their next cleanup will be Sept. 22.

Washed Ashore, a Bandon-based nonprofit group, takes all forms of ocean debris, then makes artworks from the trash. Volunteers can build sculptures or donate marine debris at its studio, about seven miles south of Bandon on U.S. Highway 101.

But volunteers should exercise caution, warned Mike Zollitsch of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Some debris could pose hazards.

Although the writing is in Japanese, most hazardous items have warning markings – such as the skull and crossbones – that are similar to the markings used in this country, Zollitsch said.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email