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October 3, 2000

Environmentalist Opposes Dredging Chickasaw Creek

by Edmund Tsang

Myrt Jones, president of Mobile Bay Audubon Society, is opposed to dredging in the waterways surrounding the Mobile area in general, because she believes dredging contributes to the overall degradation of Mobile Bay and its tributaries and of the quality of life of the Port City. So she is opposed to the recent application by the Mobile-Chickasaw Port Facility, Inc. to dredge Chickasaw Creek, and raised her objections to the state and federal agencies that will decide on the permitting: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

According to Boyd Lowe of Mobile-Chickasaw Port Facility, Inc., the reason for the "maintenance dredge" is to remove silt that has built up since the channels were last dredged in 1979. According to the public notice about the project, the "applicant proposes to maintenance dredge 732,300 cubic yards of materials from the Chickasaw Creek navigation channel between the Cochran Bridge and the Mobile-Chickasaw Port... Dredged materials would be deposited in an existing diked dredged material disposal site at the Port."

Lowe considers the possibility "remote" that dredging might disturb any contaminated sediments introduced by Chemical Waste Management during the company's attempt in the mid-1980's to burn hazardous materials in the Gulf of Mexico on board incinerator ships operating out of Chickasaw Port. "It is as remote as Jesus preaching in a Baptist Church," Lowe added. Chemical Waste Management had made only two such loadings using the Port of Chickasaw, Lowe said.

Myrt Jones' concern that dredging might disturb sediments contaminated with hazardous materials is not unfounded. In 1998, EPA named Mobile Bay as one of 96 watersheds in the U.S. that "contain areas of probable concern" because of contaminated sediments. In an earlier study performed for the U.S. Geological Survey by Dr. Wayne Isphording of the University of South Alabama, the 1991 report stated that while Hurricane Frederick had produced a "scouring action" on heavy metals in Mobile Bay's sediments, "subsequent deposition that continues to take place in the bay has acted to restore heavy metals in the bottom sediment of the bay."

Jones also raised a concern regarding the disposal of dredged materials in her letter to regulatory agencies. According to Jones, at a Citizens Advisory Committee meeting with the Corps of Engineers before the 1979 dredging of Chickasaw Creek, she posed the question of whether the potential for "isostasy" had been evaluated for the dike to hold the dredged materials, but she concern was disregarded by the COE personnel. Isostatic settling refers to the gradual widespread settling of a region where sediments have accumulated to great depth, according to Glossary of Selected Geologic Terms by W.L. Stokes and D.J. Varnes. Jones said the dikes of the disposal site did give way, with the dredged materials being swept back into the creek, devastating the wetlands and posing a significant costly problem as the dredging had to be done again.

In a telephone interview in mid September, John B. McFadyen of the Corps of Engineers confirmed that breaching of the dike holding the dredged materials from 1979 did occur. "Aerial photos indicated that spillage of the dredged materials had occurred prior to 1989," when McFadyen joined COE. For the current application for maintenance dredge, McFayden said the applicant is required to submit an engineering analysis of the dike for the disposal area.

McFayden also said there is "no indication" that sediments in Chickasaw Creek may have been contaminated, but admitted that he is not aware if sampling had ever been carried out to determine if the sediments were contaminated. According to McFayden, there is no plan to sample the sediments of Chickasaw Creek to determine its contents.


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