Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Riverfront Project Could Delay Cleanup of Harbor

Commercial Appeal
By Tom Charlier

The scenery along the Wolf River harbor should revolve around wildlife and stunning sunsets, not floating masses of syringes, condoms, diapers and juice bottles, a boating group says.

More than a dozen boaters at the Harbor Town Marina on Mud Island have asked the city to speed up plans to rid the harbor of trash that washes in from storm sewers. They don't want deliberations over an envisioned riverfront development project to hold up the effort.

"You wouldn't believe the stuff we see," said Albert Alexander, one of the marina-users listed on a letter seeking the cleanup.

After heavy rains, he said, the harbor is covered with "the worst of what you'd want to see" - everything from shoes and baby dolls to diapers and condoms. ``It just doesn't break down."

In their letter, the boaters say delaying the cleanup project to wait for a decision on the riverfront plan could leave the harbor polluted for ``many years down the road."

But city officials contend there are good reasons to wait - about $8 million in good reasons, in fact. The cleanup project will be that much cheaper if the harbor is turned into a lake as envisioned by the nonprofit Riverfront Development Corp. (RDC).

The centerpiece of a plan now before the RDC involves the construction of a land bridge from downtown to Mud Island, transforming much of the harbor into a lake. The purpose would be to create land for development, generate revenue for other public projects and draw more people to the Mississippi River.

The plan, which officials expect to be adopted by the RDC board on Thursday, eventually would require approval by the City Council.

The question of whether the lake is established weighs heavily on plans to clean up the harbor.

Any cleanup effort would employ self-cleaning mechanical bar screens at the Bayou Gayoso Pumping Station, where stormwater from much of downtown and surrounding areas flows into the harbor. The screens would filter pollution from the water.

But the size and type of screens used would vary significantly depending on whether the harbor remains subject to the wildly fluctuating elevations of the Mississippi or is transformed into a more static lake.

Memphis public works director Jerry Collins said the cost of the screens that would be needed if the harbor remains unchanged is about $10 million compared with roughly $2 million if it becomes a lake.

"It would be unwise to install screens at great expense, and then take them out in two years," Collins said.

The city hasn't budgeted any money for the project until fiscal 2006, he said, but that could change.

In the meantime, Collins said, the city is trying to reduce the pollution by attacking the problem of litter and storm water contamination.

Memphis also has adjusted its street-cleaning operations to focus on "high-trash areas," said Rodney `Butch' Eder, director of the city's General Services division.

RDC president Benny Lendermon said the pollution problem has attracted more attention in recent years because recreation on the river and harbor has increased.

"The problem hasn't gotten a whole lot worse. It's just that more and more people are using the water - which is good," Lendermon said.

The cleanup project will take on additional importance if the land bridge and lake are established.

The narrow, 150-acre lake would be isolated from the Mississippi's currents, which now carry off pollution.

"It (trash) would just accumulate there," Lendermon said. "Right now, we have sort of a self-flushing system with the Mississippi River."
- Tom Charlier: 529-2572

Caption:
By Alan Spearman
(Color) Trash lines the banks of the Wolf River harbor. "You wouldn't believe the stuff we see," said Harbor Town Marina user Albert Alexander.
photo

Copyright (c) 2002 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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