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Friday, Aug. 3, 2012

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Piecework: Workers on Wednesday use a wire saw to section the giant Japanese dock that was torn away by last year's tsunami and washed ashore near Newport, Oregon. AP

Workers cut up tsunami dock on Oregon beach


Workers on Wednesday started cutting up the boxcar-size dock that was torn away from an Aomori fishing port by last year's tsunami and washed up on a beach in Oregon.

The dock became an international sensation after washing ashore on Agate Beach north of the town of Newport on June 5. A commemorative plaque showed it was one of four owned by Aomori Prefecture that broke loose from the port of Misawa during the March 11 tsunami.

Scientists have warned that the 1.36 metric tons of seaweed, mussels, barnacles and starfish attached to the dock represent a significant threat from invasive species, which could disrupt the local ecosystem.

The dock is the biggest single piece of tsunami debris so far to float some 8,000 km across the Pacific and wash up on North America's shores. An abandoned fishing boat that appeared off Alaska was sunk. A motorcycle in a shipping crate appeared on a remote island off British Columbia and went to a museum. A soccer ball reached Alaska. And officials are keeping an eye on what appears to be a barge floating off Washington state.

The plan is to cut the concrete dock into five slices, like a loaf of bread, using a piece of equipment called a wire saw. If all goes well, the work was to be finished after about a day, leaving nothing but a depression in the sand until the ocean waves fill the beach back in again.

"We really are trying to keep in mind that this came from a massive disaster in Japan and try to treat it with the respect it deserves," Scott Korab, director of business development for Ballard Diving and Salvage of Vancouver, Washington, said over the low rumble of the wire saw and the roar of the wind.

"We are trying to complete the job in a safe and timely manner, and make sure we are giving the public all the time they need to get some last photos of everything as well," he said.

The pieces will be craned onto flatbed trucks. The trucks drive over the soft sand on a temporary roadway of planks and steel plates. Biologists will check the bottom of each slice for invasive species. The pieces, one to a truck, will be dismantled.

A 3.35-meter piece bearing a mural of blue waves that mysteriously appeared on the dock in the past week will be cut off and taken to Newport for use in a memorial to be erected somewhere yet to be determined, Korab said.

The Oregon Historical Society has asked for a piece, as has a museum at the University of Oregon, said Parks Department spokesman Chris Havel.

Korab's firm won the contract from the department with a bid of $84,155 (about ¥6.6 million).

Workers dug around the dock to the bottom, then snaked a PVC pipe through the wet sand underneath and threaded the cutting wire through. Then they hooked it up to a motor and pulleys on top of the dock that keep the wire running continuously in a loop, cutting through the mass of concrete and rebar. Workers have a diagram of the dock to plot the best path for cutting.

The 60-some spectators were a new element for the workers, Korab said.

"We have people kind of camping out as if this was a parade. People brought their lawn chairs and are finding logs to sit on, watching it all unfold," he said. "We usually are doing things under the radar."

The Japanese government estimates that 1.36 million metric tons of debris was washed into the ocean, but it remains uncertain how much remains afloat. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the debris covers an area of the North Pacific roughly three times the size of the contiguous U.S. More is expected to wash ashore over the next several years.

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The Japan Times

Article 4 of 16 in National news

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