Air Date: Week of September 10, 1999
In February the cargo ship New Carissa ran aground near Coos Bay, Oregon, spilling thousands of gallons of oil onto sensitive beach. Salvage crews are working furiously to get the rusting hulk off the beach before winter sets in, but sightseers as well are flocking to the site. Colin Fogarty from Oregon Public Radio has our report.
CURWOOD: More than six months after the cargo ship New Carissa ran aground near Coos Bay, Oregon, and dumped thousands of gallons of oil near shore, the stern section of the boat is still rusting on the beach. The bow section was hauled to sea and sunk, and much of the oil was burned off. But the stern has so far refused to budge, and salvage crews trying to remove it are racing against time. And as they work, they have plenty of spectators. The remains of the New Carissa, it seems, are one of Oregon's more popular tourist destinations. Colin Fogarty from Oregon Public Broadcasting has our report.
(A helicopter whirrs)
FOGARTY: A helicopter lands on board this charred and battered remnant of a ship. The back end of the vessel rises from ocean swells just a few hundred feet from the beach. Bill Millwee, who represents the ship's owners, steps onto a buckled deck.
MILLWEE: Welcome aboard the New Carissa. (Laughs)
FOGARTY: Millwee shows off a roll of thick fabric used to clean the oil still trapped in the engine room.
MILLWEE: You just throw this on the surface, and it picks up oil and throw them away.
FOGARTY: Kind of like a really good paper towel.
MILLWEE: That's just about it, yeah.
FOGARTY: But at this point, members of the salvage crew have cleaned up as much oil as they can get to. So the plan is to make the ship floatable by patching holes in its skin.
(Cutting, drilling sounds)
FOGARTY: Once that's done, a barge will haul it out to sea and sink it. Deep ocean temperatures should solidify any oil and hold it in place.
MILLWEE: Here comes our taxi.
FOGARTY: Back on shore, Bill Millwee worries about the oncoming winter. Already, winds and high swells have delayed the salvage effort.
MILLWEE: This is probably one of the most inhospitable coasts in the world. Our coast is just absolutely magnificent and beautiful, but it is certainly no place to hold a shipwreck.
FOGARTY: For some businesses in Coos Bay, the eight-month shipwreck ordeal has been an economic boon. These days, though, the flow of sightseers has slowed to a trickle. Tour operator Gene Grabe is running far fewer tourists out to get a look at the New Carissa. Earlier this summer, he had groups of 30 or 40.
GRABE: You know, the last couple of days has been, like, four. (Laughs) It's been pretty boring.
FOGARTY: But soon enough, six tourists show up for the 2 o'clock tour.
MAN: Yeah, we're heading to the redwoods, and we just saw a sign that said New Carissa. So we said, hey, we saw it in the news, let's go check it out.
WOMAN: Because it's here, I guess. We were just so close.
MAN 2: It is news.
WOMAN: We were so close to it, we didn't want to miss it.
FOGARTY: Gene Grabe starts the engine of his 1970 Chevy Suburban for the 40-minute round trip over rugged sand dunes. He drives only in government- regulated areas. Even so, environmentalists are concerned about vehicle and foot traffic on the beach. The endangered western snowy plover doesn't have much habitat left, and the New Carissa looms right near it. The oil spill was devastating enough for the tiny shore bird, and Ray Dolan, with the Cape Arago Audubon Society, worries sightseers could do even more damage.
DOLAN: We certainly like to have people go out on our beaches for recreational purposes. But I don't think we're inclined to want to have a major tourist attraction right adjacent to plover habitat.
FOGARTY: The state is not inclined to keep the shipwreck as a tourist magnet, either. Bob Applegate, the press secretary for Governor John Kitsauber, says an environmental disaster should not become the hallmark of Oregon's pristine coast.
KITSAUBER: Oregonians and people around the country come to the Oregon coast to see the Oregon coast. And that's what we want to recreate. And that's why we're going to get the stern out of there.
FOGARTY: Salvage crews have set an unofficial deadline of October first to complete their operation. If they can't haul it out to sea before winter sets in, harsh storms would break up the ship even further. That could mean more oil on the beach, and even more sightseers throughout the year. For Living on Earth, I'm Colin Fogarty.
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