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Salem, OR—Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan released an advisory report today that found the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) appears to be doing well managing the hazardous tree removal cleanup from the 2020 wildfires. This unprecedented emergency incident also means 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 was the biggest and most expensive emergency disaster event in Oregon history. The wildfires burned over 1 million acres and affected multiple counties. 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.

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 completed in Summer 2022.

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. 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. Auditors performed a limited, real-time review of debris removal operations at the request of ODOT leadership to inform the agency and public. The review adopted a question-and-answer format to address five of areas concern with the hazardous tree removal work — which entities were involved in cutting trees in the fire corridors, the development of the criteria used for identifying hazardous trees, environmental protections in place during the tree removal process, tree disposal, and the extent of after action reviews to learn and improve debris management operations for the next wildfire event.

Today’s report is not an audit under government auditing standards. Issuing an advisory report allowed for a timelier project to recognize the impact on state agencies and other involved entities as other emergency events were being addressed. This report has undergone the same quality assurance process as audit reports from the Audits Division.

Read the full report on the Secretary of State website: https://sos.oregon.gov/audits/Pages/default.aspx

Contact Information

Carla Axtman
971-302-0056
carla.l.axtman@oregon.gov

Attachments

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