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City of Memphis set to award contract to install booms to corral McKellar trash

By Tom Charlier of The Commercial Appeal

Posted: 2:00 p.m. 1

A self-styled “warrior” against water pollution, Colton Cockrum fights his biggest battles on McKellar Lake.

The lake, actually a slack-water harbor on the Mississippi River, often is deluged with trash that washes in from Nonconnah Creek. The creek drains much of South and East Memphis and Whitehaven before emptying into McKellar.

“People are still trashing their neighborhoods in the city, and that trash is going into Nonconnah and Nonconnah flows into McKellar,” said Cockrum, founder of the group Memphis River Warriors, which conducts monthly cleanups at the lake and other water bodies in the area.

Cockrum’s group soon will be getting help in its fight to clean up McKellar. The City Council will be asked to approve a contract providing for the installation of a system of floating booms that will collect litter in the lake.

The city recently accepted bids on the project, with the lowest being for $319,238, said Scott Morgan, administrator of environmental construction for the Public Works Division.

The system will consist of four plastic booms, three of them about 500 feet long and the other 800 feet. They will be buoyed by floats every couple of feet and attached by cables to large trees on the shore, Morgan said.

The booms will corral the floating trash as it flows into the lake from Nonconnah Creek, preventing the debris from drifting into the trees and shore areas that are difficult to access, Morgan said.

A separate contract will be awarded for the service of regularly gathering the trash collected by the booms.

“I think it should have a good impact,” Morgan said.

Assuming there are no delays with the council’s approval, installation of the booms should start by around September and be finished in a few weeks.

McKellar’s pollution has been a chronic problem and a source of embarrassment for the city. For each of the past several years, an Illinois-based environmental group has recruited dozens of students to help clean up the large masses of trash during spring break.

The booms wouldn’t be able to eliminate the raw sewage now contaminating McKellar as a result of recent leaks in the Memphis wastewater collection system. Leaks that began March 31 and lasted over a week dumped more than 350 million gallons of sewage into the lake, prompting health officials to advise against contact with the water there.

Tom Charlier thumbnail

About Tom Charlier

Tom Charlier is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal. He covers issues ranging from medicine to the environment to transportation.

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