The Japanese tsunami debris washing ashore on West Coast beaches is so far a novelty that has locals talking and tourists visiting, but those sporadic beachings will become more frequent — and more costly to clean up.
In addition to removing the debris, and in some cases trying to reunite it with owners in Japan, crews must also deal with the threat of invasive marine species that could threaten local ecosystems if they grab a foothold.
Oregon’s Department of Parks and Recreation learned first hand about the costs when a 66-foot-long dock landed on a beach near Newport last month.
Volunteers helped burn non-native seaweed and other organisms clinging to the dock, and the state on Tuesday accepted a bid of $84,000 to have the structure removed from the beach. Other bids ranged as high as $240,000.
“As far as who pays, there is no single budget set aside for it at this point,” parks spokesman Chris Havel told msnbc.com. “We are working with the governor’s office and federal legislators to try and shield coastal communities from the direct cost as much as we can, but there are no concrete answers yet.”
As for the months ahead, “no one knows how much it could cost, or who will pay,” Havel said. For now, the department has to “pay for it up front” with funds budgeted for other items.
At the federal level, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awards grants for cleanup of marine debris, but that program was created before the 2011 tsunami and is meant to deal with smaller messes.
Grants have totaled up to $1 million a year recently, NOAA spokeswoman Monica Allen told msnbc.com, but the program isn’t accepting new proposals until the fall.
Even worse for Oregon, “the program does not award grants for past work done before the award,” Allen said.
In Washington state, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday said the state has some funds set aside for tsunami debris cleanup, but it’s likely not enough. “We don’t have the resources at the state level to do what we’re going to have to do here,” she said.
Read more of this story on MSNBC.com