As Oregon gears up for the solar eclipse and the potential for a million visitors, the concerns are mounting just as fast as the excitement. There’s worry about traffic, the threat of forest fires, overwhelming emergency services, and one problem that would be sure to stink: trash.
Federal, state and local authorities, as well as environmental activists, are hoping trash won’t be left scattered on Oregon’s public lands, beaches and parks, but are preparing for what could be ugly.
“We’ll have dumpsters in place. We’ll have extra port-a-potties in place in popular areas where we’re expecting heavy impacts and lots of traffic,” said Stephen Baker with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest region. “We are really going to be encouraging people to pack it in, pack it out. Leave no trace ethics are incredibly important.”
But there’s no doubt among experts that there will be an impact, although there’s no way to pinpoint the scale of it.
“It’s like having a giant concert in the middle of nowhere suddenly,” said Rob Guttridge with Recycle Advocates.
“The eclipse is definitely unprecedented for us,” Baker said. “We’re also concerned about people going off trail and damaging sensitive species.”
Guttridge said he’s still fairly optimistic visitors will do the right thing, although he worries about one place in particular: “I’m concerned that people who are going to be stuck in traffic -- that leads people to do things they might not do if they were more comfortable.”
“Litter pickup crews will be busy,” he added. “Volunteer roadsides cleanup folks will have something to do for sure.”
The Forest Service is already planning to partner with volunteers for cleanup events following the eclipse.
Removing trash from beaches is top priority for Lincoln County, where there’s worry high tides could send garbage into the ocean before it’s collected.
Solid Waste Manager Mark Saelens said crews and leaders have strategized for months, and will treat the eclipse like a large-scale 4th of July weekend.
North Lincoln Sanitary Services President Tina French agrees the constant stream of summer crowds flocking to the coast gives them an edge.
French said crews will put out extra dumpsters and make sure all waste collection cans are empty before the big August weekend.
“It’s going to be crazy on Tuesday -- but at the end of Tuesday, we can wipe our brows and say ‘Good job team,’ and be done”
But across the state in the little town of Madras, they’re not quite as used to the tourism that the coast and even Bend get, and the city’s population could explode to ten times the size.
“We’ve purchased extra containers,” said Madras Sanitary Service Manager Kevin Haugen. “Everything we’ve got, we’re going to have it out. We’re not letting anyone take any time off and we’ll be working some odd hours, some long hours just trying to control the chaos.”
FOX 12 spoke to garbage collection businesses in several counties across the totality of the eclipse. Services in Lincoln, Benton and Crook counties are planning on beefing up collections -- some will quadruple pickup, others worried about traffic, plan to only operate at night.
Waste Management spokeswoman Jackie Lang said the company’s call center is getting more calls from customers worried about extra trash.
“For businesses that are expecting big crowds, think ahead, Lang said. “If you end up with extra material, you’re going to want extra service, so you’re going to want to get that call in 24 hours in advance to your service provider.”
Lang also suggests that those planning watch parties bring reusable items, like a favorite coffee mug, as opposed to paper cups. Visitors should also pack their own containers for recycling and trash.
And although the excitement grows there’s a lot of jokes from those in the trenches who say they can’t wait for it to all be over -- hoping Oregon will come out as beautiful and pristine as ever.
“We need everyone’s help protecting these lands,” Baker said.
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