As waves of Japanese tsunami debris reach Northwest coast, who will pay for cleanup?

(CBS News) CANNON BEACH, Ore. - The reports have been coming in from up and down the Northwest coast: Pieces of debris, one bigger than the next, have begun washing ashore, bits of evidence from the tsunami that devastated parts of Japan last March. But what's being done about it?

Mark Meade lives on the coast of Oregon. He loves the beach, but he hates what's happening to it.

The bits of white on the coastline looks like seashells. But it's not. It's Styrofoam from Japan and it has drifted 5,000 miles. Every day, more debris piles up on the beach. Meade picks up what he can, but he's overwhelmed.

"You've got tons of bottles and whatever," he said. "It's my backyard and I don't like it. Something needs to be done. "

Based on ocean currents and computer models, scientists predicted the 1.5 million tons of tsunami debris floating across the Pacific would hit Oregon and Washington at the end of this year.

But when a 66-foot Japanese dock washed ashore in Oregon this month, it was clear those predictions were wrong.

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Chris Havel is with Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. The department is paying $84,000 to have the dock cut up and carted off -- its entire annual budget for beach cleanup. And this is just the first wave. Debris is expected to keep coming for two, even three years.

And with tons of material washing ashore already, no one knows yet how they're going to collect it all, dispose of it, or pay for the cleanup.

Rich Mays, manager of Cannon Beach, Ore. says it's costing his tiny resort town up to $2,000 a month already.

"We have to clean it up. We have to put in a dumpster for somebody to pick up," he said, and those efforts are not accounted for in the city budget.

In Washington State, where a Japanese fishing boat washed ashore at Cape Disappointment, Gov, Christine Gregoire says $100,000 set aside for tsunami clean up clearly isn't enough.

"We don't have the resources at the state level to do what we're going to have to have done here," Gregoire said. We don't."

For now, Washington and Oregon are relying on volunteers like Russ Lewis and Ellen Anderson. They call this America's coastline, and like many people in the Northwest they say they need federal help -- now.

"Something needs to be done to clean it up as it comes in, and there is nothing in place," Meade said. "There is no plan."

If all the tsunami debris came ashore at once it would probably be declared a national disaster. It's a crisis growing one piece of Styrofoam, at a time.

  • Bill Whitaker

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