Sequim man: Volunteers not enough for tsunami debris onslaught

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A public meeting on the continuing arrival of Japan tsunami debris has some North Olympic Peninsula residents and business owners frustrated over what they say are lost opportunities.

“Why should volunteers be solely responsible for handling an environmental cleanup?” Matt Ward, owner of US Lawns in Sequim, asked at a meeting of the state Marine Debris Task Force at the Port Angeles Senior Center last week.

Ward said he was impressed with the level of cooperation among the many governmental agencies involved in the debris cleanup, but it did not seem that there is a solid plan for dealing with the potential disaster that the main wave of tsunami debris, expected to arrive this winter, could bring to the West Coast.

“My main concern is that they rely on volunteers to handle the majority of the cleanup,” Ward said.

A state Marine Debris Task Force plan released in September calls on volunteers and volunteer organizations for the bulk of the cleanup, while state and federal agencies will assist as needed to remove items that demand special equipment, training or handling.

In August, the state received a $50,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to fund trash bins to be placed at popular beaches, to purchase trash bags and gloves, and to employ crews with the Washington Conservation Corps.

As a business owner and a surfer and camper who spends a lot of time on area beaches, Ward said he thinks there is a better way to keep the area clean — and create jobs.

Local landscapers and construction contractors have dump trucks, dump trailers and the ability to utilize equipment and manage people to accomplish missions already in place, Ward said.

“As a local business owner, I can see an opportunity to convert my resources to beach cleanup very easily,” he said.

Those industries’ slow season — winter — is also the season when debris experts have said that they expect the greatest amount of debris to arrive on beaches.

The pairing is perfect, Ward said.

“Rather than rely on volunteers, we should set up a specialized team to sweep the beaches on an ongoing basis to ensure our environment stays pristine,” he said.

The North Olympic Peninsula has seen efforts of local citizens working on the problem before the government became involved, said Ann Shaffer, executive director of the Coastal Watershed Institute.

“There is a very quiet core group of people — the Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation,” Shaffer said.

Surfrider volunteers found and removed what is thought to be the first identified piece of tsunami debris, a Japanese oyster farm float, in October 2011.

The group has said it is planning another cleanup with the Coast Guard at a remote beach near Cape B on the Pacific coast where the float was found.

Surfrider members have said the beach has more debris built up in the one year since the cleanup than it did during the previous cleanup — which was the first in more than 20 years.

Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at

Last modified: November 12. 2012 5:32PM
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