COLUMBUS, Ga. — Take a 110-pound tractor-trailer tire, fill it with water, silt and rocks, and it can weigh up to 170 pounds by the time divers find it on the bottom of the Chattahoochee River.

How do they get it out?

Good question.

Chattahoochee RiverWarden Henry Jackson said they dig out the debris to lighten the load before trying to haul it out. Mike Stinchcomb of Chattahoochee Scuba said divers can attach the tire to an inflatable “lift bag,” fill the bag with oxygen from a regulator and swim with the tire as it floats to the surface.

They’ll be removing a lot of tires, come Oct. 14, during the annual “Help the ‘Hooch” cleanup they were on the river promoting Thursday with Keep Columbus Beautiful and the Columbus Water Works.

Clearing out the tires will be “a lot of hard work,” Jackson said: “We’ve gone to the point before that we’ve driven a Jeep down onto this sandbar and winched tires out of the sandbar.”

He and Stinchcomb have been out looking for tires and other heavy objects they’ll have to help cleanup volunteers retrieve.

“I was out here yesterday scouting,” Jackson said of the area just east of the Phenix City Amphitheater. “And in this little slough just to my left, we counted yesterday 16 tires. I see a couple more that I didn’t see yesterday, because the level’s down about another foot. So there are probably 20 tires just within 20 feet of where we’re standing right now.”

He was standing on the Alabama bank, next to the amphitheater, where at low water a wide, sandy shelf extends out to the middle of the river. It’s where families with children often wade out into shallow water.

And it is littered with broken glass and jagged metal. Jackson said he has talked with a local emergency room nurse who told him children regularly show up with cuts and punctures to their feet, from stepping on such debris while wading barefoot.

No one should wade barefoot in the river there, Jackson said.

Tires aren’t all that volunteers drag out of the river, of course. “We found a mattress one time,” said Stinchcomb.

“The weirdest thing we ever found, we found some bed sheets from Emory,” said Jackson, referring to Emory hospital in Atlanta. “Those came a long way. We found them actually right here on this sandbar. That was about three years go.”

Also uncovered during a cleanup was a methamphetamine “kit,” or a portable lab for making the drug, Jackson said. That’s a dangerous discovery, because the chemicals used can be toxic.

“You come up with a few interesting things, once in a while,” he said.

William Kent of the Columbus Water Works said the cleanup, now in its 24th year, draws up to 10,000 volunteers.

“We’ve found computers in the river; we’ve found drink machines – tires of course – guns. I mean, you name it, we’ve found it,” he said. “We always ask all of our participants, ‘Name the most unusual thing that you’ve found,’ and over the years, there have been some doozies. Folks in Phenix City, Alabama, actually found bones. Thank goodness it was just animals; it wasn’t human.”

Guns, bones and meth labs require calling the police, as organizers are not qualified to investigate such discoveries.

Most of the trash is not so unusual: bottles, cans, food wrappers, etc.

Volunteers would not have as much of that everyday trash to collect, if people here weren’t littering every day.

Jackson would like residents to remember the river is the area’s lifeblood, the source of its drinking water and much of its tourism, now that Columbus offers whitewater rafting.

“If you’re a taxpaying citizen in the state of Georgia, you own the river,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to take care of it, so we ask people not to dispose of trash in the river, and if you see trash, pick it up.”

The trash that winds up in the Chattahoochee doesn’t just get tossed off the bank. Some comes down tributaries, and some pours out of storm sewers.

“As ‘Finding Nemo’ taught us, all drains go to the ocean,” Jackson said in reference to the Disney film. “Well, in Columbus, all drains go to the river. So all these storm drains that you see, if you take a closer look, there’s a little blue medallion on the top of the storm drain, and it says, ‘Drains To Creek.’

“That means it’s a straight pipe that runs from the street to the creek,” he added. “There’s no filter, there’s no catch basin, nothing. So anything that goes in that storm drain goes in the creek, and then eventually it goes to the river, which then eventually goes to the ocean.”


Information from: Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, http://ledger-enquirer.com

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TIM CHITWOOD
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