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MailTribune.com
  • Oregon tsunami task force likely to be disbanded

    Kitzhaber's adviser says 'systems are in place' to act fast if major event happens over winter
  • A state task force coordinating Oregon's response to Japanese tsunami debris likely will disband next year if no significant events happen over the winter.
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  • A state task force coordinating Oregon's response to Japanese tsunami debris likely will disband next year if no significant events happen over the winter.
    "From what I'm seeing, we have great systems in place," Gabriela Goldfarb, the governor's natural resources adviser, said at a meeting Thursday of the Governor's Japanese Tsunami Debris Task Force.
    "I think we need to be able keep those at the ready and able to mobilize but it's such a big investment of time for everyone to be here," Goldfarb said.
    Thousands of tons of debris washed into the Pacific Ocean when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami struck Japan in March 2011.
    One of the largest pieces of debris, a 55-foot-long concrete dock, arrived on Agate Beach in Newport on June 5, 2012.
    The Governor's Task Force on Japanese Tsunami Marine Debris was formed three weeks later to formulate a plan to deal with the debris coming ashore in Oregon.
    That plan was completed in December 2012.
    Since then, few large items have come ashore in Oregon.
    The state has helped coordinate regular beach cleanups, and established phone and email reporting systems.
    Now, between 10 percent and 20 percent of debris being found on Oregon beaches is Japanese tsunami debris, said Chris Havel, a Oregon State Parks spokesman.
    That's only a spike in the overall problem of beach debris, which was growing for a decade before the disaster, Havel said.
    Perhaps the weakest link in the coordinated approach is a lack of data about invasive species hitching a ride on the debris, said John Chapman, an Oregon State University marine invasive species specialist.
    About 120 invasive species were found on the Agate Beach dock, Chapman said. Other things washing up have pushed that number to 165.
    "About 30 percent of those are things we never saw on this coast before," he said.
    But many pieces of marine debris are disposed of without testing, he said.
    "I'm hoping in the collection of this debris, there's a mechanism to fund enough staff time of the groups that are already out there, to take pictures and measure the weights and dimensions of these things," Chapman said.
    There also is a public fear of radiation, both from the tsunami debris and from fresh leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was damaged by the earthquake.
    Fukushima is spilling around 300 tons of radioactive water into the Pacific each day.
    Within days, Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to begin removing 400 tons of dangerous spent fuel assemblies in what Japan Today called "a hugely delicate ad unprecedented operation fraught with risk."
    Last month, Havel attended the Pacific Rim Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu.
    "That fear and concern was palpable at the meeting," he said. "At times it was difficult to talk about immediate concerns due to the fear about radiation contamination."
    The fear is unfounded, Havel said.
    "All of the evidence to date shows that it's very unlikely this is ever going to affect us on the West Coast," he said.
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