Morgantown Dominion Post

October 16, 2003

County Joins In River Cleanup

Signs Onto Resolution Circulating Among Monongahela Communities

By Evelyn Ryan

This time, Monongalia County Commissioner Bob Bell is not alone in his drive to clean up the debris that collects behind the locks and dams on the Monongahela River.

The question arose at a Region Six Planning and Development Council meeting, he said, and resulted in a resolution that's going to communities up and down the river.

The goal is to have Congress authorize and finance a demonstration clean-up project, to be conducted on the Upper Monongahela River, home to Opekiska, Hildebrand, Morgantown and Point Marion locks and dams.

"We don't know what's floating in our rivers," Bell said. "This stuff flows up to Pittsburgh, and then into the Ohio."

Mon County commissioners Wednesday approved the resolution, already endorsed by the Mon County Development Authority and Mon County Solid Waste Authority.

The Monongahela River begins at the confluence of the West Fork and Tygart rivers at Fairmont, and flows north to Pittsburgh. Fairmont and Rivesville, both with riverfront development plans, see the debris as a problem, Bell said, as does Clarksburg and other communities along the tributaries. He's also gotten complaints from the new Radisson Hotel in the Wharf District.

"I visited the Chesapeake Bay and Inner Harbor and watched them do litter pickup in those areas," Bell said. "A one-man operation, it seemed to be very simple, with a paddle boat, and you probably get 85 percent of the trash."

Bell said he would like to find a way to remove the debris, which ranges from trees to empty soda bottles, and bring it to the county recycling center, not far from the Morgantown Lock and Dam. Once at the center, the items would be separated and inventoried, to try to determine where it originates. He admits this would be costly.

The debris behind the Morgantown dam is supposedly released at 2 a.m., when it's not visible to folks on the shores, he said.

At one time, the debris was released during the day. Bell complained and forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lock operators, to change the time to the wee hours of the morning.

The Army Corps says it doesn't have enough money to do clean up behind the dams, Commission President Asel Kennedy said.

"It's a safety problem in trying to work behind the dam itself," he noted. "You might get sucked under very easily by the undertow. But I think its something we need to continue to work on, especially with all the development we have on the rail-trail and in the Wharf District."

The resolution says the debris offers visual and odor pollution; water pollution that's hazardous to humans and aquatic life; health and safety hazards, for community and industrial water intakes as well as those using the river for recreation; and navigation hazards.

The resolution asks Congress to fund the demonstration program "to develop the methods and technology needed to solve the problem of river trash and debris removal and disposal, and to develop a national technology base for addressing the river trash and debris problem on all our nation's navigable rivers."

A four-step approach is suggested: Phase 1, a report on historical approaches to dealing with river trash; Phase 2, develop approaches for dealing with the river trash and debris problem; Phase 3, a test of the favored approach to handling the matter; and Phase 4, evaluate the results and propose any further efforts that might be needed.