Cleanup of abandoned float debris needs high tides in October

A cleanup of abandoned pieces of old harbor floats the tribe was trying to get done this spring may be delayed until October. Project lead Kim Wickman said the high tides they need during daytime hours won't occur until then.

Though the full effort will have to wait, Wickman, the Indian General Assistance Program technician at Wrangell Cooperative Association, and Valerie Massie, IGAP coordinator, tied off three large chunks of the old floats at Shoemaker Bay beach on May 18.

The pieces are 40- to 50-year-old float fragments, polystyrene foam in crumbling concrete shells, leftovers from the Shoemaker Bay harbor float replacement project in 2018.

"Styrofoam is a forever product that never really goes away," Wickman said Monday via email. "It will break down and get smaller but it will always be there."

As it floats around the ocean or once it ends up on shore, it finds its way to birds, fish and other subsistence foods, she said. "WCA IGAP took on this project because it was an environmental concern that will affect subsistence foods and it's a great opportunity for the community to work together," Wickman said.

The pieces were part of 60- to 80-foot-long old floats that the borough sold in 2018 when it should have trashed them, Port Director Steve Miller said in January.

Wickman said they have located four float segments this year so far, and have tagged them for removal, but it's a moving target, literally. They were able to mark the pieces after a 19-foot high tide swept through at 1:51 a.m. on May 17, and an 18.9-footer came in at 2:33 a.m. May 18, leaving the pieces beached on the shore.

"Last year we had come up with 13, and unfortunately many of them have moved and we are tracking them down," Wickman said.

WCA needs at least a 19-foot high tide that brings the water higher up on the beach - and daylight for the work - because the floats "are super, super heavy. A boat might not be able to pull them off the beach. If we do try to do it without the buoyancy of the tide, we may end up putting Styrofoam all over the place," Wickman said.

WCA is conducting the cleanup in coordination with the U.S. Forest Service and the borough's Port and Harbors Department. The Forest Service will provide boats in October for the removal, Corree Delabrue, district interpreter at the Forest Service, said May 18.

It's all a matter of timing, she said.

"Last fall, when we had the right tide, they just weren't able to get the floats removed on that day. There is a window of time where we weren't able to do it on that day, so the floats shifted," Delabrue said.

Another issue is disposal.

"Once we collect these things, how do we dispose of them? That was another piece of that (issue)," Delabrue said.

One of the pieces washed up on Haig and Bonnie Demerjian's beachfront at their home on Shoemaker Loop Road on May 17.

"They're a hazard to navigation," Haig Demerjian said last Thursday. "They're eyesores and also pollution."

"Rather than doing the right thing and having the harbor destroy them and throw them away, they let people up and down the beach have them," Demerjian said. "They tied them up, they don't do anything with them; the storm comes, the ropes break. And they float around. People have seen them all over."

While records were kept of who bought the old floats, it's now impossible to identify who owns the debris floating in the water. Over the past three to four years, 10-foot-square pieces have been found, up to 20 that they know of, Public Works Director Tom Wetor said in January - a microtrash-generating mix of concrete and foam that lingers in the environment.


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