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Published:January 20th, 2007 11:07 EST
Morgantown Project to Remove Floating Debris Now 3 Years Down Stream

Morgantown Project to Remove Floating Debris Now 3 Years Down Stream

By Brandon Jennings

It has been three years since Morgantown mayor, Ron Justice, signed and sent a resolution to the United States congress that should have set the rudders in motion on a project that was designed to remove floating debris from the Monongahela River at the lock located by the Radisson in Downtown Morgantown. “Nothing has really happened,” said Donald Strimbeck, a retired army colonel, secretary and treasurer of the Upper Monongahela River Association. The plan, written by Strimbeck, outlined a project that required involvement on the local and national level. But at this point it is nothing more than a plan.

Strimbeck attributes the lack of action to lower water levels for the past three years and the administration in the White House. “My guess is nothing will happen until 2008,” Strimbeck said. He said that the current administration wants nothing to do with environmental issues, and that has halted any kind of progress that could have been made. His outlook may seem dismal, but that is not the way he feels. He is well aware that it is going to cost a lot of money to start this project, and it doesn’t guarantee a solution. Residents who use the rail trail for exercise notice the problem every time they go for a jog.

“It looks horrible,” said Tina Smith, currently an employee of Outback Steakhouse and The Longhorn. “The river is supposed to be clean and there’s just like 15-20 feet of garbage.” David Sneberger, Chief of the locks and dams branch of the Army Core of Engineers’ Pittsburgh district, said that although the trash may be an eyesore, removing it would serve no purpose other than aesthetics.

“They never had a problem until there was a park,” Sneberger Said. People want to look into a nice river, said Sneberger, but the trash causes no real problem. Sneberger is in charge of 23 locks, and all of them have this problem. But when high water comes, the trash moves downstream and people are satisfied until it builds up again. “People all over the world throw their hands up when confronted with this,” said Strimbeck, “they just let it go over the dam and flow down to New Orleans.”

Even though it has been three years since the plan was presented to congress, it has not been totally dropped from the agenda. They discussed it this April, and Strimbeck said that in April of 2007 they will be talking about it again. “If we have high water this winter and all that crap piles up, everyone will be raising hell about it again.” And that is part of the overall issue.

The problem is there even when it isn’t washing up on the shore, but people let it slide until it’s put in their face. One of the most frustrating things about the issue for Strimbeck is that there is no simple solution. At the bluestone dam in Summers County W.Va., Strimbeck said, they just take boats out onto the water and pick up the stuff. But the trouble with that is the dam in Morgantown is a different type, and just boating out around it fishing for garbage can be dangerous.

The dam at mile 102 by the wharf district is a navigable dam, and that means the water flows underneath as opposed to dams like the bluestone dam where the water flows over the top. “That’s only one of the problems,” according to Strimbeck, eighty percent of the debris is bark and wood, and fishery biologists don’t want that removed from the water because it disturbs the habitat for the fish. Joe Mcneel, the director of Forestry at WVU said that he would argue that some of the debris could be left. But, “Removing trash and old cars wouldn’t be a large problem for fish habitat.

The reason fishery scientists get up in arms when talk about removing debris from the river begins is that when the ACE began to “channelize” rivers, they removed everything and this `eliminated places where the fish could hide. That was detrimental to the fish and caused the population to decline drastically. In addition to these problems, “even if you had the money to take it out of the water,” some of it would be impossible to dispose of properly. A lot of the debris is hazmat.

There are barrels that held solvent and countless other types of material that the disposal of is regulated and expensive. “I definitely think something needs to be done,” said Chad Taylor, 24 year old resident and 3rd year law student at the WVU College of Law who frequently uses the rail trail for running off stress. “I just don’t know where we can get the money from.” According to Strimbeck, if the Corps of Engineers were given the money, it would do it. But someone has to approve that.

“You’re talking millions,” said Strimbeck, and that amount of money is not easy to come by, especially for a project that Strimbeck says the Army Corps of Engineers is not, “widely enthusiastic,” about pursuing to begin with. “The bottom line is there is no easy way to solve it,” Strimbeck said.