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Device now trapping litter flowing in Flat Creek

Environmentalists say real key is to stop trash from entering waterway

POSTED: December 5, 2015 5:00 a.m.
ERIN O. SMITH/The Times

Alex Hill helps install a Bandalong Litter Trap on Friday in Flat Creek. Officials hope to also use the device as an educational tool for school field trips and those interested in environmental issues.

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CLEVELAND — The device looks a bit like something out of science fiction, with its long arms stretching in opposite directions and sturdy green basket attached in the back.

But Gainesville and Hall County officials are hoping the Bandalong Litter Trap will produce real results, reducing trash in Flat Creek, a long-beleaguered waterway that flows some 6-7 miles from downtown Gainesville to Lake Lanier.

So too are Gary Hopkins and Mark Kirves, owners of Storm Water Systems, which assembled the 600-pound device in its plant off Industrial Boulevard, south of Cleveland.

The company has delivered systems to other places in the nation, including three in Washington, D.C., “but nothing’s more important to us than what’s going on in our backyard,” Hopkins said.

The trap was placed Friday on Flat Creek just south of the Flat Creek Water Reclamation Facility at 2641 Old Flowery Branch Road in Gainesville.

Hall County is paying for 60 percent of the $174,000 purchase and installation costs and Gainesville 40 percent. Gainesville will pay for maintenance of the litter trap.

Storm Water pushed the product to area officials several years ago, but the effort didn’t pick up steam until the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association found out about the product and became a big promoter, Hopkins said.

“They started an email and telephone campaign,” he said.

Joanna Cloud, executive director of the lake group, has been a longtime proponent and is glad to finally see the device installed.

“This is in response to a long-standing issue on Flat Creek flowing into Lake Lanier,” she said. “We are very pleased to see the local municipalities step up and collaborate on working toward a solution for this area.”

The association also supports the idea of using the trash trap as an educational tool. A parking lot is planned at the site, with officials saying they believe the trap can be an informative lesson for school field trips and those interested in environmental issues.

“Part of the challenge in Flat Creek is educating the local community about how litter, in all forms and even in small amounts, can build up to be a significant problem, with far-reaching detrimental public health and economic impacts,” Cloud said.

“Grassroots educational campaigns with children are very effective at helping to change social behavior in our communities over time.”

Jason Ulseth, who heads Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said his environmental watchdog group has seen similar trash traps installed in other areas.

“They are very effective in removing trash from streams when they are properly installed and maintained,” he said.

Flat Creek “has long been a significant source of trash flowing into Lake Lanier and we are thrilled to see a trash trap being installed,” Ulseth said.

“However, an ideal solution would be to prevent the trash from ever flowing into the creek. People need to realize that when they throw litter on the ground, that litter will wash into waterways the next time it rains.”

A couple of years ago, the area where Flat Creek flows into the lake was filled with trash after a heavy rainfall the night before in Gainesville. Area officials noted at the time that the pollution may have been particularly bad because the rain had followed a long dry spell and a lot of trash had built up.

“It’s just incredible the volume of trash that comes into Lake Lanier” from Flat Creek, Gainesville Water Resources Director Kelly Randall has said, “particularly after a large rainfall.”

The trash trap, which Storm Water Systems has pushed to Helen as a possible solution for trash on the Chattahoochee River, is anchored in such a way to allow the device to float up and down but never below the current.

“It skims the surface,” Hopkins said. “The unique thing about this product … is there’s no chance of it backing up water and flooding downtown Gainesville or people’s homes.”

Area officials also have hailed the product as a useful tool.

“Flat Creek, as a whole, flows in and out of both the city of Gainesville and Hall County, so the county has a vested interest in its overall health,” said Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley.

“In addition, pollutants in Flat Creek ultimately flow into Lake Lanier, one of Hall County's greatest assets. Therefore, this initiative will help clean up the lake, which is in the best interest of our entire region.”

More than just trash has created problems for the largely urban waterway.

Flat Creek had the highest fecal coliform count in 2014 at 811 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of water, based on a geometric mean of 15 samples taken that year. The recreational standard is 200 per 100 milliliters.

And Pilgrim’s Pride was cited by the Environmental Protection Agency last year for violations of the Clean Water Act after sending pollutants into Flat Creek. Floating fats were found entering the city’s wastewater system, for example.

Also, recently, about 2,600 gallons of sludge was mistakenly pumped into Flat Creek in a wastewater spill. Sludge “that would have eventually drained to the stormwater pumping station entered Flat Creek,” the city of Gainesville said in a news release.

For Kirves, the litter trap is at least one way that governments can help cure at least one of the creek’s ills.

“And this is important to me, as I live on Lake Lanier,” he said. “I’ve been a big-time water skier, and been on the lake since I was a kid. (Through the device), we thought we could help clean up the environment.”



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