Monday, March 26, 2007

City to request screen for harbor pumping station

Commercial Appeal [Link]
March 25, 2007
by Tom Charlier

Terry Hanson's twice-weekly canoe outings in Wolf River Harbor would be a lot nicer without all the soft-drink cups, beer cans and other litter lining the banks like a dirty ring on a bathtub.

"It's horrible," the 52-year-old Downtown resident said after an outing last week. "It's not just the trash. It's the unkempt nature of the riverbank."

For years, the problem of litter in the harbor near Downtown has rankled outdoors enthusiasts and raised the eyebrows of tourists.

Rains wash the trash from city streets into storm sewers, which dump it into the harbor at the Bayou Gayoso Pumping Station at North Front and Saffarans. Prevailing southerly breezes can help keep it there.

But within the next month, Memphis will take the first step toward a multimillion-dollar solution to the problem. City officials will issue a request for proposals for a screen mechanism that would be installed at the pumping station to trap much of the litter before it reaches the harbor.

The project won't be simple. The bar screens that officials envision must be sufficiently sturdy and elaborate to catch trash without impeding the flow of water and contributing to flooding Downtown, city public works director Jerry Collins said.

"The first step is to figure how to implement a screening device that will actually work," he said. "It's not going to be an easy application."

The storm sewers and pumping station are critical components of the city's drainage and flood-control system.

During normal conditions -- when the Mississippi River has not risen to within 5 feet of flood stage -- storm water flows by gravity through concrete channels and reservoirs, entering the harbor through a gate at the pump station. When the river is at least 29.5 feet on the Memphis gauge, the gate is closed and the water is pumped through a flood wall protecting Downtown.

Since there are screens to protect the pumps, the litter problem occurs mostly when water is flowing through the open gate.

Collins said the city plans to issue the request within the next 30 days and receive the proposals 30 days after that.

Although no precise timetable or cost estimate for the project has been prepared, "we're definitely talking about millions of dollars," he said.

The screen project will be funded through the storm water fees that households, businesses and agencies have been paying since last May. The fees bring in nearly $13 million a year, with average residential household paying $2.18 a month.

Memphis officials had delayed decisions as to how the harbor should be cleaned up because of the prospect of a land bridge to Mud Island, which had been planned by the city's Riverfront Development Corp. and would have turned much of the harbor into a lake. The RDC's decision in late 2005 to drop the land-bridge plan opened the way for the screen project.

Terry Templeton, manager of the division of water pollution control in the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's Memphis field office, said that while litter is generally not as serious as chemical pollution, it is an environmental problem.

The screens should trap much of the litter, but ordinary citizens can help even more, he said.

"The ultimate solution for trash is for all of us not to litter," Templeton said.

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