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Business says its litter trap could clean up Chattahoochee in Helen
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The Chattahoochee River in Helen recently landed on the Georgia Water Coalition's "Dirty Dozen" list due to trash often left behind by tubers.

Gary Hopkins didn’t need the Georgia Water Coalition’s “Dirty Dozen” list to know how bad trash was along the Chattahoochee River in Helen.

But the president of Cleveland-based Storm Water Systems took the chance Tuesday to let the Helen City Commission know about his company’s Bandalong Litter Trap and how he thinks it could alleviate the problem. He said his company put a test site for the trap in Helen in 2008 and successfully caught litter.

Hopkins said a lot of people that fish and live below Helen are upset because they’re getting remnants of the trash.

“It’s easy just to let it go downstream and be Lake Lanier’s problem,” Hopkins said.

He’s hoping the city will take a more proactive approach.

While Jimmy Harris of Unicoi Outfitters said he supports Hopkins’ idea, he said keeping litter out of the water to start with is a more pressing concern. Unicoi Outfitters leads guided fishing trips.

“We’re picking up litter every week by the truckload,” Harris said.

The Water Coalition’s report pointed to tubers in Helen as a major reason the Chattahoochee landed on the “Dirty Dozen” list.

Hopkins said the 11 litter traps Storm Water Systems has nationally have ranged from $113,000 to $300,000, though one in Helen would likely be pretty close to the lower price point because it is so close-by. The company is installing one of the traps in Flat Creek in Gainesville in the coming weeks.

Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said Hall County is paying for 60 percent of the purchase and installation costs and Gainesville 40 percent. The total cost, according to Crumley, is $174,000. Gainesville will pay for maintenance of the litter trap.

Helen Town Manager Jerry Elkins said commissioners on Tuesday didn’t express one way or another their feelings on the litter trap. Elkins said there was discussion of visiting the Gainesville litter trap and seeing how it operates before making any decisions.

But Elkins said if the city decided to go with the litter trap, it would have to find partner entities to help offset the cost of purchase and maintenance.

“That’s a pretty expensive endeavor for a small town to invest in where there’s really no return,” Elkins said.

Said Harris: “We’ve been battling this for over 20 years now, and it’s getting worse as each year goes by. We need somebody to sit down with us and come up with a solution.”

He’s hopeful the city of Helen and some area businesses can make that happen.

Hopkins said tubing companies are already tasked with taking trash out of the waters in Helen, so there wouldn’t be a need to pay someone else to clean out the litter trap once it catches trash.

Storm Water Systems started in 2009 and is a licensee of Australia-based Bandalong.

Harris is still hoping to find a way to stop trash from entering the Chattahoochee in the first place.

“When you have an issue like this, that’s so impactful on one of greatest resources in North Georgia, the Chattahoochee River, you’re morally bound to find a way to stop this instead of let’s find the easiest way to clean it up,” Harris said.

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