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March 19th, 2003 Francesca Monga | News Stories
 

PDX's Blade Runners

How your illegal nail clippers could end up on eBay.

     
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IMAGE: stephen voss
In a glass case at the Society of St. Vincent dePaul thrift store in Hillsboro, underneath some fake pearls and a Malibu Ken doll, two dozen corkscrews sit in a wicker basket. At the Tillamook branch, there are 200 scissors and pocket knives. The Southeast Holgate Street store in Portland boasts about 75 tweezers.

It's an impressive collection of sharp metal items, and, thanks to a recent change in federal policy, a small taste of what you'll soon be finding on eBay.

Until recently, the Society of St. Vincent dePaul received "voluntarily abandoned" items from Portland International Airport. An item is considered voluntarily abandoned if it is collected at a security checkpoint. Before 9/11, the list of items not allowed on board was short and focused on firearms and explosives--items that don't lend themselves to thrift-store resale. Today, thanks to the increased threat of terrorism, most items made of metal that have a pointed tip are considered dangerous, and thus are prohibited past the airport security gates. In December of last year, 406,395 items were collected at security gates around the nation.

"When the Port Authority first called us, after 9/11, we were getting a 55-gallon barrel full [of abandoned items] a week. Then it slowed to one barrel a month," says Bill Conyard, St. Vincent dePaul's executive director. The most recent shipment was their last.

According to the Transportation Security Administration, the federal body that took over airport security for PDX in February, abandoned items must now remain government property. "We were making items available to St. Vincent dePaul and other nonprofits," says Nico Melendez, TSA's West Coast representative, "but we received new guidance at the end of January."

Now passengers' scissors, pocketknives, corkscrews and compasses will be heading to Oregon's Department of Administrative Services, State Property Program. The division received its first 55-gallon barrel on Feb. 27. What are they doing with the items? "We sell the items on eBay," says Nole Bullock, program representative, who adds that the money goes to the state.

Travelers who don't want to "voluntarily surrender" their beloved nail file at the security gate have limited options: They can return it to their car, mail it to themselves from the Customer Service center, or put it in their checked luggage, if the luggage is still available. These options are time-consuming and, for anyone running late, impractical.

Of course, if you don't mind buying in bulk, there's always eBay. As of March 17, the state (one of its seller names is oregontrail2000) was offering several batches of surrendered items, including 11 Swiss Army-style knives. The high bid was only $15; the auction closes Thursday, March 20.

FLYING WITH SCISSORS

Items "surrendered" at PDX in December 2002:

40 clubs, bats and bludgeons

44 box cutters

7,855 "sharp objects" (including knives, scissors, bottle openers, nail clippers)

SOURCE: Transportation Security Administration

 
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