It’s not every day the public is invited to witness the removal of a 66-foot-long, 7-foot-tall concrete and plastic foam dock from a pristine stretch of beach on the Oregon Coast.
It’s not any day, really. The dismantling of the giant dock from Japan, which began Wednesday at Agate Beach, was a first.
STORY: Oregon officials worry about creatures on tsunami dock
Officials had anticipated a large turnout, and they were not disappointed. Hours before work was scheduled to begin, the parking lot already was full. It’s been this way since the debris made its grand arrival early June 5.
Sunscreen was applied, backpacks were packed, shoes were changed, bathroom breaks were made and a single file line was formed as dozens of people walked through a tunnel, balanced over a makeshift foot bridge and began the quarter-mile hike up the beach toward the dock.
With a stunning seascape as the backdrop, tourists and locals alike gathered on the beach to watch workers divide the debris into five sections with a wire saw. The pieces were to be hauled onto a flatbed semi-truck destined for the Portland-area for final disassembly and recycling.
This is what was supposed to happen over two days, with the first piece being severed and hauled away Wednesday. But it didn’t go exactly as planned. By 7 p.m., the first section of the dock had not yet been lifted by the 100-tonne lift capacity crane waiting nearby.
For a dock that was ripped from its pilings in the Japanese port city of Misawa during the March 2011 tsunami and then floated 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean – thanks to its Styrofoam filling – it seemed fitting that it would put up a fight.
Spectators were held at bay by yellow caution tape as workers in orange life vests and hard hats moved atop the dock, keeping a close eye on the wire saw buzzing over the roar of the ocean.
Thirteen-year-old Wheeler Fine of Reno, Nev., was disappointed by the anticlimactic reality of the dock dismantling.
“I thought the work would go faster,” he said, sculpting a sand castle as his parents surveyed the work through binoculars. “It was neat for a little while then it got pretty boring.”
In the public eye
The most unique aspect of removing a giant Japanese dock from the beach is not the job itself. Not for Ballard Diving and Salvage.
The company has been called to raise a damaged hull from the bottom of a marina after a 38-foot yacht exploded. They’ve been called to a remote, high mountain lake in Colorado, where divers – in 250 feet of water – salvaged a 115-year-old intake valve for placement in a museum.
Removal of the 165-tonne Japanese dock isn’t the most daunting job the company has ever faced. There’s just one small detail that sets this job apart.
“The one unique aspect of this project is it’s very, very unusual to have someone watching what we’re doing,” said Scott Korab, the spokesperson on the project. “Of course we knew there would be one giant eyeball on this project, and we wanted to make sure it was all laid out well.”
Ballard was awarded a contract for $84,155 to complete the work. The firm is responsible for removing the dock, recycling or disposing of the material, and restoring the work site on the beach.
Crews set to work earlier than anticipated Wednesday with a wire saw to make a clean cut and minimise impacts. There were hiccups toward the end of the day when the wire on the saw snapped.
Korab said he’s heard all sorts of suggestions about how they should dispose of it – shoot missiles at it, sink it or blow it up like the whale in Florence in 1970.
He’s had people ask if they can have a chunk to take home.
“The answer is no,” he said.
After the crane loads the sections onto the trucks, they will be transported to Portland for disposal. The steel will be recycled. And so will the concrete, which will be crushed into gravel and “soon to come to a parking lot near you,” Korab said.
Dock makes a mark on Newport
What do a whale, a national science centre and a Japanese dock all have in common?
Keiko, the famous whale who starred in the film “Free Willy,” spent time at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. He died in 2003. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Operations centre soon will celebrate its first anniversary of coming to Newport this month.
And, of course, the Japanese dock is in the process of being dismantled this week.
All three can be credited for a spike in tourism in Newport.
Since it washed ashore June 5, the dock has attracted record numbers of visitors who want to touch it and take photos. Oregon Parks and Recreation Department counted about 73,000 cars in June and July at Agate Beach State Park.
Chris Havel, a spokesman for Oregon Parks and Recreation, said the park generally attracts about 220,000 people annually. This year, he thinks the number will be closer to 350,000.
Some locals have grown fond of the dock.
“We are sad to see it go,” said Judy Kuhl, general manager of the Best Western Plus Agate Beach Inn. “Because it’s really helped out our economy. I have never seen the beaches down here so packed with people.”
Matt Rountree, who works at a cafe in Newport, said he’s definitely noticed an increase in business, beyond the usual spike coastal towns see during the summer months.
“It’s mind-boggling the number of people who come to see this giant hunk of concrete,” he said.
Havel said the state’s top priority is to protect Oregon’s pristine coastline, which means keeping it free of debris. Though the dock is being sliced into pieces and hauled off Agate Beach, coastal residents have not seen the last of it.
A corner chunk of the dock – the one with the most hardware and a piece of a mural someone painted during its stay in Oregon – has been saved for a future memorial in front of the Hatfield Marine Science Centre.
Two faces in the crowd
Jesse and Amy Parkes-Vincent had the right idea.
As the Ballard crew scrambled to piece off the first section of dock and the yellow caution tape fluttered in a strong wind, the Albany couple sat relaxed, away from the crowd in two red fold-out chairs.
They come to Newport often for down time and they’ve visited the dock several times. This trip was purely out of curiosity about the dismantling process.
“This is our way of nerding out,” Amy said with a laugh.
The two talked between themselves about how they would accomplish the task of removing a Japanese dock from the shoreline.
“I’m not a professional, and I have absolutely no idea how to do the job, yet I’m full of suggestions,” Jesse said. “We’re just bench racing.”
If a piece of the dock was removed in their presence, great. If not, they planned to pack up their red chairs and head to their favourite restaurant in Newport.
The dock removal originally was expected to take about two days, with cleanup Friday, officials said.
Havel, who has never dealt with an event that has gained such notoriety in his 18 years with Oregon Parks and Recreation, said after the dock is cleared, normalcy will return to Agate Beach.
“Once that last piece is off and gone,” he said, “all this interest will probably evaporate like the morning clouds.”