Morgantown Lock and Dam Causes Trash Problem

Daily Athenaeum
6 September 2017
Georgia Beatty, Correspondent

The Morgantown Lock and Dam hosts an island of garbage, a growing problem since the 1990s.

"I walk past [the dam] every day with my son and he doesn’t understand why it’s so bad," said Chastity Sions, a newcomer to Morgantown.

Stephanie Vikberg, while passing through West Virginia on a trip, saw the trash as she walked along the Morgantown Rail Trail.

"There is no excuse in a modern age to leave that there," said Vikberg. "It’s a pride thing. The city should want to clean it up. It should be fixed."

The Upper Monongahela River Association and the EPA have reported damage associated with river debris: odor pollution, water contamination, safety and navigation hazards, and interference with lock and dam operation.

River debris surrounding the dam may also threaten West Virginia University.

When the dam is released, some garbage travels north toward university shores.

Long-term solutions may be out of the city’s reach.

"It boils down to money," said City Manager Paul Brake. "Can we justify allocating millions of dollars?"

"There’s a possibility we could pursue [a rehabilitation project] through a special request [to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers], but that’s not a guarantee it’ll be approved," he said.

Brake also detailed a plan in which the debris would be collected, brought to the shore and hauled to a landfill by a solid waste collector.

"Getting close to the dam, however, is a dangerous operation for the city to take on," said Brake. "The problem is getting the garbage to the shore."

Volunteer efforts and unequipped boats face hazardous conditions due to the construction of the Morgantown Dam. Water flows under the structure rather than over, causing strong currents to pull the water downward. This not only increases the likeliness that debris will lodge itself against the wall, but makes attempts at cleaning unsafe.

In order to have the dam cleaned safely, Morgantown requires federal help. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — while responsible for maintaining waterways — is not specifically responsible for debris removal.

In fact, according to the Upper Monongahela River Association, the Army Corps has absolutely "no facilities for collection and disposal."

"They’d have to employ special ships. They’re not authorized for the funds they’d need to finish the project," Brake said.

Locally, though, resolutions have been made periodically in attempt to fix the issue. An official request for Congress to develop removal methods was made in November 2003, but this fell short of success due to budget restraints and lack of concern in Washington.

"I’m not saying the resolutions were empty promises, but local level frustrations are not as significant on the national level," said Brake. "It’s more making a statement to the community than anything."

Other cities with similar waterway conditions have resorted to technological solutions such as solar-powered machines. Baltimore, Maryland, uses the Inner Harbor Water Wheel to lift and deposit trash from the water to a dumpster.

Brake suggested the city and the university work together, a partnership that could produce a similar invention to help the Morgantown mess.

"How can we solve this problem?" he said. "And maybe be environmental leaders?"

Strimbeck comment. The entire 11by14 front page of today’s 6 Sept 17 WVU DAILY ATHENAEUM is color photo of trash behind the Morgantown lock and dam.
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