Gov. Chris Gregoire today announced she has released $500,000 from the governor's emergency fund to the state's Military Department Emergency Management Division (EMD) to address potential debris from the Japanese tsunami washing up on Washington state beaches.
"In the last few weeks, we have seen a steady stream of Styrofoam, plastic bottles and other non-hazardous, non-biodegradable debris showing up on our shores," Gregoire said. "To keep our beaches clean and safe, we can't just leave this pollution there. And the cost to remove this debris is climbing. The federal government is ultimately responsible for cleaning up tsunami debris, but this emergency funding will help provide the needed resources and boots on the ground to ensure a quick and effective response."
Earlier this month, Gregoire directed EMD to coordinate the state's response to tsunami debris and develop a marine debris response plan. The agency is continuing to work closely with the state's departments of Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, Health, Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Commission and other agencies as necessary, as well as the federal government, local and tribal communities and private non-profit groups.
The emergency funds will be transferred to EMD's Disaster Response Account to help cover unexpected expenses such as the removal of large non-hazardous debris, and respond to potential invasive species. Earlier this year, Ecology had allocated $100,000 from its litter account to support routine marine debris collection. Currently, state agencies are absorbing other expenses within their regular budgets.
"Debris from the Japanese tsunami debris presents an unknown risk to our environment, our economy and public safety," said Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island). "Potential invasive species could very well threaten our environment and impact our fisheries. Large pieces of debris could disrupt vessel traffic, pose a risk to vessels and citizens recreating on our beaches and even affect our economy. Governor Gregoire's immediate recognition of the seriousness surrounding these potential impacts and her willingness make these funds available is very timely and will go a long way toward addressing this issue."
"Debris washing up on our shores is a threat to our commercial-fishing and sport-fishing businesses. It's not just bits and pieces of wood, the Department of Ecology has reported all sorts of junk, from garbage to plastic and Styrofoam to oil drums and refrigerators." said state Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen), who chairs the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. "It is essential that our state get sufficient funds to put in place a cleanup plan of action to protect our quality of life."
"We must establish a thorough response to the huge challenge that's on the way. In fact, we're already experiencing the first wave of Japanese-tsunami debris; just last week 70 pick-up loads of stuff were removed from our beaches," said the chair of the House Local Government Committee, Rep. Dean Takko (D-Longview). "The environmental impact this could have in our communities is a real concern because it will affect not only the travel and tourism industry, but also create public-health and public-safety issues."
If citizens find debris on beaches they think may be hazardous or contain oil, they should immediately call 1-855-WACOAST (1-855-922-6278) and press "1." The Department of Ecology is poised to respond to any reports of hazardous or oiled marine debris, a service the agency already effectively performs. The Department of Fish and Wildlife will coordinate on efforts related to invasive species.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is collecting information about potential debris from the Japanese tsunami on Washington beaches. Citizens can report tsunami debris to NOAA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, see the state flier on what to do if you spot debris, http://www.ecy.wa.gov/news/2012/docs/debris_flier.pdf
More information on marine debris can be found at,
http://www.ecy.wa.gov/news/2012/itn01_debris.html and http://disasterdebris.wordpress.com/
To read the letter Gregoire sent to NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco regarding tsunami debris clean up, visit: http://www.governor.wa.gov/news/2012-06-25_Secretary_Lubchenco.pdf