Tsunami debris task force: The worst is yet to come

Tsunami debris task force: The worst is yet to come
In this Aug. 29, 2012 photo, Mary Johnson, the general manager at Washed Ashore, shows a piece of foam-like material that may be insulation and tsunami debris in Bandon, 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. (AP Photo/The World, Jessie Higgins)

COQUILLE, Ore. (AP) — 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 2011 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 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 Saturday, 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.

Washed Ashore founder and artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi plans to use tsunami debris to build a sculpture titled 'Tragic Wave." The piece will feature misshapen homes flowing out of a large wave, said Mary Johnson, the organization's general operations manager.

So far, Washed Ashore has received a few pieces of Styrofoam it believes came from the tsunami. More is bound to arrive this winter, Johnson said.

Gates believes volunteers can remove most of the debris, especially considering the volume of volunteers who have come forward since the debris started arriving.

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

At the community presentation Wednesday, Zollitsch showed pictures of Japanese gas cans, fire extinguishers and other household items that should be handled with care.

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.

If in doubt, call 211.

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Information from: The World, http://www.theworldlink.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press