By Tiffany Woods
Jenny East carries a porta-potty when she’s at work. She’s even been known to wear a crown and cape. As a result, she’s been nicknamed the Porta-Potty Princess.
Although she doesn’t actually sit on her mobile throne, she does put it on display during outreach events when she’s talking to recreational boaters about proper sewage disposal. “If humor gets someone to come talk with me, then OK,” she says.
As the boating outreach coordinator with Oregon Sea Grant (OSG) and the Oregon State University Extension Service, she informs boaters of the approximately 80 locations in the state where they can find floating restrooms, pump out their holding tanks or flush away the contents of their portable toilets. She also checks those facilities for wear and tear and talks with maintenance staff and boaters about any problems they may have with them, such as a broken pump or an untidy facility. Then she works with the staff and the Oregon State Marine Board to resolve issues.
Since she was hired in December 2015, East has twice inspected about 40 facilities along the coast, Willamette Valley and Columbia River. Based at the Extension Service’s office in Beaverton, she has traveled from Brookings to Astoria and even to Hermiston, Detroit Lake and the Fern Ridge Reservoir west of Eugene. Through her visits, she learned that some marina employees needed training on how to service the facilities. So she collaborated with the marine board and OSG’s communications team to produce a series of videos on how to maintain and winterize the facilities and troubleshoot problems with them. In 2017, OSG also produced two short videos that encourage boaters to empty their portable toilets and holding tanks at designated facilities.
Wherever boaters congregate, East has been there with her booth, informational handouts and porta-potty. She has attended yacht club meetings, the Portland Boat Show, the Saltwater Sportsmen’s Show, Fleet Week in Portland and a holiday lighted-boat parade; been interviewed on the radio about her work; and spoken to and joined the Oregon Women’s Sailing Association. East informs boaters about the Clean Vessel Act grant program, which provides funds to states for the installation and maintenance of the waste disposal facilities. She also gives boaters a sheet with locations of the facilities and directs boaters to BoatOregon.com, where they can find an interactive map of the sites. She aims to understand boaters’ motivations for using – or not using – the facilities, and she asks them where else they’d like to see them installed.
“Jenny’s energy, enthusiasm and ability to easily talk to boaters about a sensitive issue has been tremendous,” said Ashley Massey, the public information officer for the marine board. “Not a lot of people want to discuss their human waste habits. But when Jenny starts the conversation off with, ‘Do you know what this is?’ and then points to a photo of a waste disposal station and then her porta-potty, a connection is made. People are put at ease, and the real conversation begins. That takes talent.”
East’s work is the continuation of a partnership with the marine board that dates back to 2011. With the board serving as an adviser, her predecessors with OSG surveyed boaters about their knowledge of the disposal facilities and their preferred ways of receiving information. Using feedback from marina staff, OSG created signs promoting the facilities. In 2013-14, OSG also hired contractors to produce two videos that humorously encourage boaters to empty their portable toilets at designated facilities and to use the two dozen floating restrooms on Oregon’s lakes and reservoirs.
“They laid a great foundation that I could build from,” East said.