A month after Jim Ledbetter spied more than 30 errant bright orange, plastic barricades on the banks of South Chickamauga Creek that were washed downstream of the Interstate 24-Interstate 75 "Split" project, he found they still have not been retrieved by the contractor.
In March, Ledbetter — a member of the South Chickamauga Creek Greenway Alliance — had complained to the state agency after finding the barricades scattered along a five-mile-long stretch of the creek between I-75 and Shallowford Road. There are no specific rules about recovering barricades, but at around $200 each, the cost makes it worthwhile to keep track of them, state officials said.
Late last month, on a return visit, he paddled from the Camp Jordan canoe launch to Shallowford Road and saw the debris still there — which he considers an eyesore.
"With the waters well out of their banks, and the debris scattered over broad, inaccessible areas, I had my doubts that a clean-up would happen 'as soon as the current slows down to an acceptable level,' per [Tennessee Department of Transportation] spokesperson [Jennifer Flynn]," Ledbetter said in an email to the Times Free Press and TDOT officials.
Flynn said Saturday a clean-up is coming and could be done as soon as next week, weather permitting.
The contractor on the $132.6 million 'Split' project, Marietta, Georgia-based C.W. Matthews, told TDOT in March the company would address the mess. The barriers and barricades were being used under the interstate bridge over South Chickamauga Creek to keep pedestrian traffic out of the project area. The barriers are not usually used for motor traffic, officials said.
The stream gauge on April 24 showed the water level was 15 feet below the level it was when Ledbetter paddled the flooded creek on March 18 when he saw and photographed the barricades, he said.
"With the creek level that much lower, it greatly reduces how far one can see as the near vertical banks drop 6-10 feet below the surrounding landscape," Ledbetter said. "With the barriers being scattered across the land during the flood, it was expected that not near as many would be seen from the lower water level. Even with those factors, I counted 19 barriers easily seen from the creek. No evidence of any effort to clean up the mess was seen."
In addition to the barricades, Ledbetter said he also found pieces of "boom," a floating silt barrier, tangled in the trees and underbrush, he said. The trees and underbrush are becoming green with leaves, making it harder to see and to clean up, he said.
Flynn said that the barricades and barriers that got loose in March couldn't be safely retrieved by contractor crews.
"In the days following the flooding, they dispatched their personnel to locate the lost barricades and floating silt barriers," she said. "They soon determined that they needed to do this work from the creek itself, and they did not have personnel with the appropriate certifications to perform the salvage operation."
C.W. Matthews officials decided to look for a marine salvage company to take on the barrier roundup.
"They have since found a company willing and able to do the work," Flynn said.
"C.W. Matthews signed the contract with the marine salvage company last week and they should begin work next week," Flynn said Saturday.
Ledbetter has promised to keep an eye on progress.
"It is important that they clean this up as soon as possible as the booms are beginning to break down, causing debris to be scattered more downstream," he said Wednesday. "I will continue to paddle the creek and report any changes I see."
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.