The garbage piling up behind the Morgantown Lock and Dam has become a community eyesore. Driving past it several times a day while I am driving pizza deliveries inspired me to explore the issue.
I came in to this story expecting to find the responsible parties largely ignoring the problem. This was not the case. The Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the Morgantown Lock and Dam has been well aware of the problem for several years, but neither the Corps or Engineers or anyone else can find a viable solution.
The funding the Army Corps of Engineers would need to pick the trash out from behind the dam would be between a quarter and half million dollars to get the necessary trash picker boat. Then there would be a cost of roughly $100,000 a year to operate the boat.
In addition, the boats in existence for trash clean-up are largely untested in stronger current situations, such as the one created by the lock and dam.
The Corps of Engineers says the money needed to clean up the trash is not attainable with their budget. So instead, the trash is released periodically from behind the dam and allowed to simply float downstream.
The Upper Mon River Association has taken issue with this practice in the past, but was informed just as I was that there is little that can be done.
In 2008, several members of the association took to the Mon on pontoon boats and did what they could to scoop out freshly released floating trash.
In 2004, the cities of Morgantown, Westover and Star City resolutions asking the Army Corps of Engineers to look for a solution to the problem. Nothing has come of it yet.
The trash build-up behind the Morgantown Lock and Dam is not uncommon among other gated dams. In gated dams, a limited amount water is allowed to flow underneath the dam. This practice traps floating trash behind the wall.
Other gated dams around the country release the trash in the same way the Morgantown Lock and Dam does. Unfortunately trash continues to be released until it flows all the way down the Mississippi River in the the Gulf of Mexico.