Coastal couple frustrated as tsunami debris piles up

NEAR WARRENTON, Ore. - Imagine your backyard filling up with garbage, bag-fulls just dumping in daily.

That's essentially the problem facing an Oregon couple, only their backyard is an ocean beach.

Mark and Kathy Mead realize they're the envy of many; they live in the Surf Pines area of Warrenton. With a beach home, they have plenty of chances to collect treasures that wash ashore.

"Those are just what you'll find every day," says Mark, as he picks up sand dollars and shells on his porch.

But the beach-combing the last several months hasn't exactly floated their boat.

"On normal day, you'll find a small amount of garbage that washes down from the mouth of the Columbia, but nothing like this amount," he explains, as he dumps out multiple garbage bags of debris he's collected the last couple of days.

Since the end of February, the Meads say they've watched the amount of junk arriving on the beach quadruple.

From instant soup wrappers to light bulbs, even eye drop bottles, mostly with Japanese or Chinese character labeling, they believe this stuff has made its way across the Pacific from Japan's tsunami last year.

Walking on the beach, reporter Anna Canzano watched as the Meads filled a garbage bag with debris within 50 feet, then carried larger chunks of Styrofoam that wouldn't fit in the bag.

There's certainly been ample attention given to the dock that came aground last week in Newport, but the Meads believe these smaller items matter too.

Among their worries? The wildlife.

"I've seen (the birds) eating the Styrofoam, pecking at it. We have some feathers normally, but not like this. There are a lot of dead bodies, so there is a concern," Kathy observes.

Mark is frustrated, because he started contacting lawmakers about the debris when it first began showing up months ago.

"If you talk to the state, they tell you it's not our problem. If you talk to the feds, they don't answer you. State Senator Betsy Johnson is the only one who even bothered to call me back and she says she can't get any answers in meetings," Mead said.

He said waiting for SOLV, a massive volunteer effort that cleans up Oregon beaches, won't work. Every tide brings in a new batch of the debris.

So, the Meads wait for a better solution, hoping the beach they consider their backyard can be treasured instead of trashed.

"Tomorrow it's starts all over again," sighs Kathy.

KATU Investigator Anna Canzano talked with State Senator Betsy Johnson and a spokesperson for Oregon U.S. Senator Ron Wyden Thursday afternoon.

By Thursday evening, both had called Mark Mead to talk about what can be done to address his concerns.

Senator Wyden tried to get in front of this matter, and as early as January this year, had convened a group of experts to discuss the arrival of tsunami debris and the development of a response plan.

His spokesperson and Oregon Senator Johnson both say NOAA researchers at that meeting estimated the arrival of debris in the winter of 2013.