Environment: The unanswered questions

The proposal to dam up the harbor with a "land bridge" and to create Wolf Lake is a cause for concern. The dam is simply urban sprawl and raises water quality contamination issues. Water seepage could also damage the buildings already constructed on Mud Island and those planned for the dam.

Click map to enlarge in separate window

Photo Map: On this satellite photo of the area, we have added the land bridge, the lake, and other items of interest. Click the picture to get an enlargement in a separate browser window. Use your browser's controls to zoom and pan. The blue shading is the storm runoff area served mainly by the Gayoso Bayou and Pumping Station (shown in green).

Creating new land for downtown is considered an environmental issue. Smart growth calls for infill and appropriate redevelopment of existing areas where there is already infrastructure. New land requires new roads, sewers, and other expensive amenities — police and fire service, etc.

The surface of the lake would be maintained at about 32 feet. The level of the Mississippi River fluctuates because of the amount of water it receives here and north of Memphis. At times, the Mississippi River would be as much as thirty feet below the proposed lake water level. The difference in elevation would create water pressure on the silt and sand that makes up Mud Island and on the dam itself. The Master Plan estimates that about 324,000 gallons of water per day would be lost through this seepage. Engineers advise that the resulting seepage and land settlement could cause cracking in existing or proposed buildings. No environmental impact studies (EIS) have been conducted for the proposed earthen dam. The Corps of Engineers is just starting a preliminary study (January, 2005).

The Master Plan contains no provisions for dealing with exposed sediments that have been contaminated with heptachlor and chlordane. These chemicals are known to cause cancer. Dredged sand could expose contaminated sediments in the lake and in the River to fish, to humans--especially children who might come in contact with the chemicals while playing on filled land-- and to lake users.
Sign warns not to eat the fish.
Portions of the Mississippi River are under a fish advisory issued by the State of Tennessee.

Two major pumping stations, Gayoso and Marble, would feed Memphis rain water run-off into the Lake. This run-off is from residential, commercial, and industrial sources. It is not treated to remove pollutants prior to its discharge into the proposed lake or existing harbor.

In this five square mile watershed, there are currently 15 large industrial sources of untreated stormwater run off. This includes several automobile junkyards, several scrap metal recyling facilities, and other industries. While many of these industrial sites have storm water permits” issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), a Sierra Club study found that a number of these industries have not submitted the required reports to TDEC and are not in compliance with the terms of their permits. The same study also reported that the concentration of pollutants in the runoff from several industrial sites exceeded TDEC’s standards by as much as 30 times! While some of the industries would be relocated under the Master Plan, the plan does not contain any proposals to deal with water quality improvements.

And these are just a few of our environmental concerns. What about the stability of the dam in an earthquake, the encroachment on the floodplain, and the existing floating beverage containers, to name a few? These issues must be addressed.
North harbor - Click to enlarge
Wolf Harbor collects refuse, Memphis area runoff and contaminates from local industry. This photo of the north harbor was taken at flood stage, January 21, 2005. Photo by Sue A. Williams.

NEXT: The legal issues