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Maker of Flat Creek litter trap named ‘clean water hero’
Cleveland business credited for water cleanup
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The trash trap installed in Flat Creek is working well at catching debris that makes its way down the creek. Workers frequently clean out the trap as it catches everything including sticks and leaves. - photo by Scott Rogers

The maker of Gainesville’s Flat Creek litter trap has been named a “clean water hero” by the Georgia Water Coalition.

Storm Water Systems in Cleveland is one of 13 businesses, organizations and individuals recognized for their work cleaning up Georgia’s waterways. The North Georgia business constructed the trap that keeps litter from flowing from Flat Creek into Lake Lanier.

“These may seem like small projects, affecting just an isolated area, but together they add up to big improvements for our water and communities,” said Joe Cook, spokesman for the Coosa River Basin Initiative and the Georgia Water Coalition, in a Wednesday announcement.

The full list of clean water heroes, called the Clean 13, is included in the announcement and covers the entire state, from Savannah to Columbus and up to Atlanta and Rabun County.

Hall County’s Flat Creek is six miles long and flows through both the county and the city of Gainesville.

The project was completed in 2015 and was funded and promoted by Hall County, the city of Gainesville, the Lake Lanier Association, Keep Hall Beautiful, Hall County Green Alliance and others.

Storm Water Systems owners Gary Hopkins and Mark Kirves, who lives on Lake Lanier, are plastic welders and fabricators by trade.

“I’m always picking trash up. Mark’s always picking trash up — he’s done several Shore Sweeps with the Lake Lanier Association — and after a rain it’s all right back there,” said Hopkins, a Cleveland resident, on Wednesday.

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Gary Hopkins, owner of Storm Water Systems, describes how the Bandalong Litter Trap works to remove trash from streams. - photo by Erin O. Smith

So the two men set out to see if plastics, one of the chief pollutants making its way into oceans, could be used to help solve the problem of litter.

Their business now builds the Bandalong Litter Trap, an Australian design that the Cleveland firm has licensed to market in the United States.

The device skims the surface of creeks for trash and other litter that has been washed or thrown into waterways.

Our oceans are becoming landfills.
Gary Hopkins

Since installing the equipment in Gainesville, Storm Water Systems has started work installing traps in Griffin and Savannah. The business has installed 16 traps since opening in 2008 and is in talks to install another five or six traps around the United States.

Depending on the size of the trap and the waterway, the equipment can remove a staggering amount of garbage from the environment.

Hopkins said on Wednesday that a trap the business installed in Mobile, Alabama, collects about 99 cubic yards of litter each year — enough to fill about 30 dump trucks.

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Fabricators Stafford Visi, Keith Roark, Adam Dover and Alex Hill install a Bandalong Litter Trap on Friday in Flat Creek. Hall County and Gainesville purchased the device to decrease the amount of litter that makes its way into Lake Lanier. - photo by Erin O. Smith

“Our oceans are becoming landfills. They’re filling up with plastic,” Hopkins said, and noted that garbage patches are growing in the Pacific Ocean and being discovered in other oceans. “It just keeps getting worse.”

Another North Georgia clean water hero named by the Georgia Water Coalition is Ladybug Farms in Rabun County.

The farm owned by Terri Jagger Blincoe used funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build concrete reservoirs on her farm to collect rainwater.

Rabun County gets an average of 71 inches of rain a year but still suffers from periodic droughts.

The four 1,500-gallon tanks feed water to her crops through a gravity system that allows her to produce about 10,000 pounds of produce each year, according to the Georgia Water Coalition.