Monday, July 11, 2011

Columbia Tribune: River Advocates Hatch Big Cleanup Plan

Originally published on July 2, 2011 in the Columbia Daily Tribune
Click here for original link. 
By Brennan David

Today was supposed to be the day when paddlers raced south to the state capital for a fundraiser supporting a Missouri River cleanup. Instead, the river relief group now is making plans to clear the banks with a trash barge after the flooding, which resulted in the race’s postponement, recedes.

Missouri River Relief plans to use the trash barge this fall in its effort to clean up tons of trash to be left behind by summer flooding. The not-for-profit organization is working to secure a barge that would store trash for volunteers as they move downriver from Kansas City to St. Louis. The September and October cleanup would be the largest endeavor yet for the 10-year-old organization, which works to connect people with the river through cleanup and education events.

“I’m optimistic floodwaters will recede in time for the cleanup,” program manager Steve Schnarr said. “But September is a long time from now.”

Schnarr said several factors could determine whether the cleanup gets a green light. The U.S. Coast Guard could shut down the river if floodwaters are well above flood stage, and safety also is a concern.

The organization generally plans river cleanups that are community-based and volunteer-driven, he said. But it also cautions against placing volunteers on the river or its banks during flooding.

“Fall could be the perfect time to do a cleanup like this, but we have to do what is safe,” he said.

If the cleanup does take place, Missouri River Relief would lease a trash barge used for cleanup on the Mississippi River for an estimated $200,000. Walking the Missouri River from its Kansas border to its confluence with the Mississippi River will take volunteers to remote areas the group has never cleaned.

“A lot of places on the river where trash collects are pretty remote,” Schnarr said. “Most of our cleanups are community-based, so they clean up around their community. It’s not typical that we clean up the remote areas. Having a barge is really the only way to get to these places.”

Although a barge makes such a large-scale cleanup possible, the cleanup will still be done manually. The barge would move once or twice a week as volunteers make their way down the river, Schnarr said. Flat-bottomed boats would transfer trash from land to a stockpile on the barge.

Schnarr said he suspects tons of trash will be dropped locally as water recedes. In 2010, more than 2,100 volunteers removed 55 tons of trash from 79 miles of river through Missouri River Relief efforts.

As a result of flooding, the second annual Race to the Dome fundraiser to benefit Missouri River Relief was postponed from today until Oct. 2. Last year’s race drew 99 participants in 66 boats and raised almost $2,000.

“I’m hoping it can be done by then,” race organizer Patrick Lynn said of the flooding. “It’s one of the better times to get on the river. … But conditions change in November.”

Participants can choose the original 15.8-mile Hartsburg-to-Jefferson City course or the 26.6-mile Providence access-to-Jefferson City race. The races run simultaneously.

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