Secretary of State: ODOT oversees largest wildfire debris removal in state history

SALEM, Ore. –An advisory report released today by the Secretary of State, found the Oregon Department of Transportation appears to be doing well managing the hazardous tree removal cleanup from the 2020 wildfires. In a media release from the Secretary of State’s office, it says the state could learn from the experience to be better prepared for future disasters.

“ODOT’s debris removal work is incredibly important not only for making our highways safe, but for helping Oregonians recover and rebuild after the devastating 2020 wildfires,” said Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. “The report shows that in this extremely difficult crisis, ODOT learned and adapted throughout the cleanup. ODOT’s efforts are clearing the way for Oregonians to rebuild their homes, businesses, and communities.”

The 2020 Labor Day wildfires were the biggest and most expensive emergency disaster event in Oregon history. The wildfires burned over one million acres and affected multiple counties. According to Fagan’s office, the cost alone for the cleanup of household hazardous waste, hazardous trees, ash, and other debris to safely access and rebuild homes and communities was initially estimated at $622 million.

In the media release, it says a newly formed Oregon Debris Management Task Force coordinated debris removal, with ODOT leading the removal operations. ODOT’s debris removal work involves cleaning up 120 miles of highway corridors and over 3,000 private properties. Work is estimated to be finished up by Summer 2022.

According to the secretary’s office, auditors also found that ODOT took measures to conserve trees as it maintains public safety along roads and highways. Rather than using standard FEMA guidelines, ODOT used a more conservative metric suited for wildfire-damaged trees, which reduces the number of trees removed. They also quickly coordinated with agencies, federally-recognized tribes, and other stakeholders to create an Environmental Protection Plan to minimize impacts to critical cultural resources and uncovered new culturally important sites not previously known. It says, “this was key to respecting the ancestral homelands of federally recognized tribes and the shared history of Oregon lands.”

This was the first time ODOT conducted major debris removal operations, a key part of the state’s wildfire recovery efforts.

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