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Columnist Sharon Nesbit shares a lesson taught by her dad: 'You made the mess. You clean it up.'

SHARON NESBITI have always enjoyed driving Airport Way to get to the Glenn Jackson Bridge. This ride goes through sloughs and waterways that, even though it is an industrial area, are part of a system that cleanses water in the Columbia River.

I know there are commissions and boards that watch over this and if you look closely you see all sorts of control systems that make it work. Portland's drinking water plant is there.

Recently, a new industrial development also included construction of a new pond. Though too square to be a real pond, it has already been claimed by water plants and last month, a heron was stalking through the soggy terrain.

Likely some corporate president on a golf course somewhere in Alabama is guffawing at what his company had to do to build in the Columbia Slough. But so be it.

Protection of our natural water ways is harder to defend now because, with the excuse of the pandemic, we have permitted the homeless to move into the green space, populating the trails and service roads with sagging RVs, wrecked cars and piles and piles of junk. (When I see such accumulations, I remember what my dad said about the messes we kids made: You dragged it in here. You drag it out.)

I feel like I have been a party to it, driving by once a month and watching the inroads on these delicate sites. One spot decayed visibly at each passing. Likely a service road on a dike, it was blocked by those huge cement blocks that require heavy equipment to shift.

Still, a garbage bag showed up. Then a discarded motor home. A chopped car. Piles began to accumulate. No one took it away. Would it have helped if I had stopped and taken away that first garbage bag?

The decay accelerated.

Somehow the cement barriers vanished and the mass of plastic, metal and slime oozed down the road and into green spaces.

Recently television news reporters — thank you, folks — have shown us what is there. I am always surprised at the industry of the homeless. Refrigerators. Floating tents on platforms in fragile water systems. All going in. None coming out.

Similarly, we have become used to the blue tarps of illegal campers on the banks of the Sandy River. We used to have sweeps of the Sandy River Delta. (No, it is not Thousand Acres or Portland's dog park — it is the delta of a swift, clean river fed by glaciers on Mount Hood.) Crews used to go in and clear out homeless camps, often at their peril because of the used needles and other dangerous materials.

There is no question that the vast majority of these messy campers are drug and alcohol abusers and that is where we do-gooders stall.

While governments dither over treatment and housing sites, junk piles grow and our waters are poisoned. Used to be you went to jail for that.

Or your dad stood over you and said, "It's your mess. You take care of it."

Sharon Nesbit can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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