Archived Story

Cleanup begins

Published 6:03pm Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The hum of machinery is a welcome sound on Lake Martin this week.

Last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began mobilizing special equipment for removing waterway debris from areas affected by the April 27 tornado and  Saturday marked the beginning of debris removal.

Wes Trammell, waterway debris removal mission manager for the Corps, said on site Tuesday that, so far, the mission is going “really well.”

“These are very professional crews,” Trammell said of the contractors tasked with carrying out the cleanup. “They’ve been doing this a long time.”

To remove the debris from the lake, Trammell said that crews are using a rig that consists of a small barge and an extended reach trackhoe. The trackhoe uses its clamshell bucket to pick up the debris and it piles it onto the back of its barge.

The bucket then reaches into the lake, grabs the bottom and pulls the barge along as it moves along the shore.

A larger barge pushed by a boat collects debris from the smaller barges and delivers it to a larger backhoe at a collection point on the bank.

Debris will be taken to one of two collection points – Civitan Track or Bear Bryant Point – before the construction demolition material is transferred to a landfill and the vegetative debris is taken to a facility to be chipped.

“They’re chipping it and they’re grinding it and then they’re just recycling it in a bunch of different ways,” said Sara Corbett, public affairs specialist for the Corps.

Crews will be removing both floating and submerged debris down to 473 feet above mean sea level, which is seven feet below the lake’s winter pool level.

“We’re going 18 feet below what the water level is now down, so when it’s winter and they drop the water table it will still be below that 7-foot project,” said Lee Willis, resident engineer for Tallapoosa and Elmore counties.

Willis said that crews would use side-scan sonar to pinpoint the exact locations of submerged debris, and Trammell added that in some cases they may even need to put a diver in the water to put a

hook on larger objects, such as a vessel or a refrigerator, in order to help pull the debris out.

Trammell hopes to be substantially complete with the mission by the Fourth of July holiday. In the meantime, he is urging safety and asked those on the lake to stay 200 feet away from crews working to remove debris.

“The main thing is to keep onlookers (away),” Willis said. “I know that they’re curious about what’s going on, but the guys we have here are very professional and we need to give them room to let them work.”

Willis also advised boaters on the lake to stay clear of the sloughs.

“Your sloughs are holding most of your debris,” he said. “They’ve got a pocket almost. If they’ll stay out of the sloughs and stay in open bodies of water for most activity, they’ll be safe, or safer, doing that then what they’ll be (if) going into coves. We’ll be working in the majority in the coves.”

As previously reported, Gov. Robert Bentley announced May 20 that he asked FEMA to provide the state with direct federal assistance to clean debris left by the tornado from Alabama’s public waterways, primarily Lake Martin and Lake Neely after weeks of public speculation over which government agency would be in charge of the cleanup. The state then requested FEMA assign the Corps with the mission to remove the debris.