Thursday, July 16, 2009

The machine and the damage done

Remember back in March, when the City of Memphis engineering staff consulted their Magic 8-Ball and announced that an 18-foot-deep stormwater detention basin would be the perfect fit for Overton Park's historic Greensward? The Memphis Zoo was okay with this plan once the City engineers proved there'd still be enough space for the Zoo's overflow parking.

But most of the people who actually like Overton Park quickly agreed that the City's detention basin concept was flat-out insane, and a fervent grassroots coalition got together to Save the Greensward.

Round about the same time, the Memphis Zoo chose to convert several acres of the irreplaceable understory of Overton Park's old-growth forest into a mulched and sodded picnic area. As CPOP documented, the Memphis Zoo broke the law by failing to apply for the stormwater construction permit that every other land-clearing operation (larger than one acre) is legally required to obtain.

We met with the City of Memphis and Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) and asked that the law be fairly applied, but, given the end result, we have to say that the Memphis Zoo got a free pass from the City and TDEC in this case.

Now fast forward to today. If you enjoy visiting Overton Park and/or live in the Lenox, East End, or Vollentine-Evergreen neighborhoods, you've probably noticed that Lenox Bayou and Lick Creek have been mud-choked and nasty-smelling for the past month or so. Why?

Because the fine engineers of the City of Memphis are digging a stormwater detention basin on the campus of Christian Brothers University, near the top of the Lenox Bayou watershed, and they are making almost no attempt (as of today) to comply with the applicable local and State laws regarding erosion control on construction sites.

And guess what? This happens to be the very same 8-foot-deep detention basin that City Engineering chief Wain Gaskins cited as a shining example when he claimed that Overton Park visitors wouldn't even notice an 18-foot-deep basin in the Greensward.

For the past month, the City's stormwater inspectors have ignored citizen complaints about the huge amounts of mud and other pollutants that are being discharged into Lenox Bayou and Lick Creek from this City construction project.

The Memphis Zoo and the City's engineering division both seem to enjoy operating above the law when it comes to stormwater regulations. We think it's time for everyone to come back down to earth.


Anonymous said...

TDEC could probably shut it down if they don't have an erosion control plan, or if they aren't following it.

Naomi Van Tol said...

Yes, we sent our written complaint to TDEC yesterday and they are investigating.

This situation should have been corrected by the City weeks ago. Our engineering staff knows better, and our stormwater inspectors know better, but it looks like they all fell down on the job.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I don't get it. What does the city stormwater pollution control dept. do? They seem to be inordinately concerned with dog poo when the city discharges actual sewage into the Wolf River and the Zoo violates the law. Maybe they need to worry less about my dog's turds and more about the biggest polluter of storm water--the city of Memphis.