Oregon having trouble dealing with debris from 2011 tsunami

June 16, 2013 at 12:24 PM
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PORTLAND, Ore., June 16 (UPI) -- U.S. lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would aid Oregon coastal communities dealing with the cleanup of debris from the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., said the influx of debris in the Pacific Ocean will be a burden for already strapped communities, The (Portland) Oregonian reported.

The Japanese government estimated that the tsunami swept about 5 million tons of debris out to sea, most of which sank immediately. However, about 1.5 tons of debris have been dispersed across the northern Pacific.

So far, Oregon has spent $447,000 on tsunami cleanup.

Bonamici has introduced two bills in Congress regarding financial help for her state for tsunami cleanup, the first of which would allow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to use $5 million donated by Japan to reimburse Oregon and other states for their cleanup effort.

The second bill would expedite a grant award process made through NOAA's Marine Debris Program to get federal money to communities in need faster.

"Our constituents need our help," Bonamici said.

Meanwhile the NOAA has submitted written testimony expressing concern that the situation in Oregon may not be a priority for grants and that about $1.8 million of the $5 million provided by Japan has already been allocated.

"The impacts from natural disaster-generated debris are not necessarily worse than the impacts from debris that comes from everyday practices," the written testimony stated. "They both have the potential to harm our natural resources and economy equally."

Other Oregon lawmakers disagree. "Our coastal communities are already facing tough economic conditions," said Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat. "They shouldn't have to face bigger budget cuts just trying to keep our beaches clean and safe."

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