In attendance

Representatives from government agencies and others attend the N.C. Marine Debris Symposium Wednesday at Duke University Marine Lab. (Mike Shutak photo)

BEAUFORT — Coastal stakeholders of all sorts met Tuesday through Friday at the Duke University Marine Lab to discuss marine debris and how to address it.

Coastal Carolina Riverwatch held the N.C. Marine Debris Symposium at DUML this year. It began Tuesday with a cleanup field trip to Fort Macon State Park and a social event at Crystal Coast Brewing Co., both in Atlantic Beach. On Wednesday, the symposium continued with presentations from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality on coastal storm debris prevention and removal and from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on regional updates to its Marine Debris Program and N.C. Response Plan.

The symposium rolled on Thursday with a marine debris planning workshop and roundtable session. A waste audit workshop was held on Front Street in Beaufort. The symposium concluded Friday with several presentations and panel discussion on the following topics:

•    Consumer materials management

•    Microfibers and microplastics

•    Inland city policy measures to reduce marine debris

•    Abandoned derelict vessels policy update

•    “Pristine Plastics are Tasty: Considering the Consequences”

•    Ocean-friendly tourism

•    “Whale Tales and Trash Talks” at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort

The were 28 people attending Wednesday morning’s presentations at the Duke Lab, many of them representatives from local, state and federal agencies, as well as environmental organizations. Among them was Carteret County Big Sweep Coordinator Dee Smith, who said she’s been coming to the symposiums for about five or six years.

“It’s been good,” she said. “The disaster relief and emergency response stuff has given me ideas about things we can do.”

Ms. Smith said the number of people attending this year’s symposium seemed a bit smaller than last year, which she chalked up to a change in the schedule, since previous symposiums were held in the fall.  

Also attending Wednesday morning were N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island Business Manager Kimberly Emery and exhibits curator Colleen Shytle. Ms. Emery said this was their first time attending the symposium.

“So far, so good,” Ms. Emery said when asked how she was finding the symposium. “It’s very helpful. I used to live on Okracoke, so Jessica’s info is very useful.”

Ms. Emery was referring to N.C. Division of Waste Management representative Jessica Montie, who spoke about coastal storm debris prevention and removal.

Ms. Montie said during major storm events, such as Hurricane Florence in 2018, DEQ, which is her division’s parent agency, is responsible for managing a variety of environmental incidents.

“The Division of Waste Management focuses on three areas,” Ms. Montie said. These areas are public works and engineering (including solid waste debris removal), oil and hazardous material response and agriculture and natural resources, which includes post-disaster animal mortality. Coordination between agencies – local, state, federal and private – and public information is a major part of the division’s job after a natural disaster.

“Our work begins a few weeks after the storm and goes on for months afterward,” Ms. Montie said.  

One of the biggest parts of the DWM’s role in post-disaster cleanup is managing and monitoring temporary disaster debris sites. These are locations chosen by local governments for use as drop-off points for debris resulting from storms.

“It would surprise you how much debris comes out of a small, local storm, let alone a hurricane,” Ms. Montie said. The DWM has recently developed online tools for tracking sites and whether or not they’ve been activated.

“Temporary disaster disposal sites can only be used when activated after a storm,” Ms. Montie said.

After Florence, 100 new sites were evaluated and 217 were activated for use. Early estimates show 600,000 tons of vegetative waste, 50,000 tons of demolition waste and 17,500 tons of mixed waste were collected at these sites after Florence. This doesn’t include debris placed by the side of the road and collected by the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Ms. Montie stressed the importance of monitoring the sites. Designating them requires a DWM evaluation to be sure the site is appropriate and its location and use meet federal standards. This ensures the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide reimbursement funds for removing the sites’ debris.

“We’re trying to create some temporary disaster debris site rules,” Ms. Montie said. “We’ve drafted some language…it clarifies FEMA and N.C. Emergency Management reimbursement requirements.”

The rules process for the proposed rules will begin in either March or May.

Ms. Montie offered recommendations on site management and debris disposal for the responsible government agencies. She recommended having separate sites for different types of debris, like demolition, vegetation and household waste. Treated wood from damaged structures such as docks may not be burned, and abandoned vessels must be cleaned of gas, oil, household waste and hazardous chemicals, then disposed of properly.

“Contingency disposal plans are crucial,” Ms. Montie said. This is particularly true along the coast and on barrier islands, where bridges and roads may be closed after a storm.

Another presentation was given at the symposium Wednesday by NOAA Marine Debris Program Coordinator Sarah Latshaw. Ms. Latshaw informed those at the symposium about regional updates to the MDP and the state’s response plan.

“This effort is to help for preparing, recovery, response and repairing after a hurricane,” she said. “North Carolina already talks a lot; you have a lot of collaboration between state agencies. You don’t see that in many other states.”

Ms. Latshaw said NOAA is creating jurisdictional maps for coastal communities that will be used for determining where each community is responsible for cleaning up marine debris.

NOAA also provides a marine debris emergency response guide for each state. Ms. Latshaw said the administration is in the process of updating the guides and asks local governments to contact the MDP to provide updated information.

“Hopefully we’ll be exercising these guides in the next year or so,” she said.

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

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