January 12, 2012

Wyden: Tsunami Debris is a Potential Threat to the Oregon Coast

Oregon Senator Urges Officials to “plan for the worst while hoping for the best”

Portland, OR  – Concerned about the impact of debris from the Japanese tsunami on Oregon’s fishing, crabbing, shipping and tourism industries, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said today it is time for federal, state and local agencies to develop a response plan and start communicating with the public.

“I take any threat to the Oregon coast seriously and millions of tons of debris headed our way sounds serious to me,” Wyden said. “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is tracking the debris generated by the Japanese earthquake. I hope the agency’s future plans include efforts to involve other agencies and organizations and let Oregon residents know what is going on and how they can help.”

Millions of tons of debris generated by the March 2011 earthquake in Japan are currently adrift in the Pacific Ocean. Based on computer models, that debris may begin showing up on West Coast beaches sometime in 2013.

On Sunday at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Wyden was briefed on the situation by representatives of NOAA, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon State University, local emergency management officials and others.

In a letter to NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Wyden said that because of the potential for damage to Oregon’s fishing, crabbing, shipping and tourism industries it is vital that federal, state and local agencies work together on a response plan that “prepares for the worst while hoping for the best.”

“It is reassuring to know that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has assumed a lead role in working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners to coordinate data collection, as well as a response plan to address the wide range of potential scenarios and threats generated by the debris field.” Wyden wrote. “As you move forward, I hope that NOAA will prioritize the development of a response plan for West Coast states and help communities and agencies along the coast plan and prepare for any eventualities related to the arrival of this debris. This might, for example, include establishing toll free numbers and websites to assist the public.”