Thursday, March 13, 2008

Saving the wetlands

At the Landmarks Commission meeting on February 28, just before I spoke, a woman and her husband got up and gave a pretty impressive and informative talk, complete with photos, about the wetlands that are being destroyed by the Beale Street Landing project. Most urbies probably don't understand the multi-layered importance of the wetlands at the north end of Tom Lee. I've come into possession of her speaking notes and reproduce them below.

Click here to read her remarks.
Standing on the cobblestone area, looking south, in September 2005. Both sides of the harbor are visible. The Mississippi is at relatively low water level. Photo ©2005 by Sue A. Williams.

Why I Believe We Should Save the Wetland, and More
By Elizabeth Langston

My husband and I have lived in downtown Memphis for over 11 years. From our deck, we have a close up view of the wetland located at the foot of Beadle Street. Because of being ill and home bound, I have observed the area virtually every day for the last eight plus years. On December 18th, 2007, city council members (most of them departing) gave their approval for phase two of the Beale Street Landing (BSL). Phase two involves destroying this wetland. In phase one, the wetland at the southern end of Mud Island was destroyed. I believe strongly that the remaining wetland should be saved because of the following:

I believe strongly that the remaining wetland should be saved because of the following:

1) It is a wetland -- by definition, function and observation

  • Definition. It is a "place where the ground is saturated or that is partially or completely covered by water some or all of the year". (US Fish and Wildlife Service). It is "land that is transitional between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and is covered with water for at least part of the year" (US Dept. of the Interior, US Geological Survey).

  • Function. It provides protection against sediment deposits, filters runoff and supports wildlife.

  • Observation. It contains vegetation (for example, trees, bushes, grasses) composed of plants adapted to grow in a place where the ground is saturated or completely covered by water during some of the year.

It also provides a natural environment where wild birds (including migratory) collect and breed; it acts as a wildlife and aquatic habitat.

2) It is a Buffer.

To be more specific, it is a Riparian Buffer, AKA a river's best hedge against pollution and erosion. It is located at the end of a large and significant city storm drain.
  • It traps pollutants that would otherwise wash directly into the Mississippi River.

  • It helps catch and filter out sediment and debris from surface runoff.

  • It slows the velocity of runoff, which otherwise could disturb aquatic life.

  • It helps stabilize the riverbank and reduces erosion, its root systems protecting the bank by deflecting both the undermining action of river current and the cutting action of the wakes of the multitude of boats that enter and exit the Mississippi River at its location.
Personal observations:

This wetland is a home to at least 30 to 40 doves. It is the nesting site of several migratory red wing blackbirds. At our home, we set up a feeding station for birds that provides birds with enough sunflower kernels (not seeds) to make their lives a little bit easier without interfering with their natural process of finding food (insects, seeds, etc.) elsewhere. Several red wing blackbird pairs, which nest in the wetland trees, appear at the feeder in spring and disappear in late August. They fly in from the wetland, eat some of the kernels and fly back to feed their young. The doves live in the undergrowth of the wetland and also frequent the feeder. Other wetland visitors and residents include wild ducks, sea gulls and Great Blue Herons.

I also have noticed the presence of a large number of a specific butterfly species which lives in and among the wetland grasses and wild flowers. Knowing a fair amount about swallowtail butterflies because we have been blessed with their laying there eggs in our parsley, I am sure the wetland butterflies use its grasses and flowers as a place for reproduction as well as habitation. In addition, there is a dirt trail through the northern most part of the wetland area that leads to the water's edge. This trail was trod by people coming to try to catch the fish who live among the root systems and submerged grasses.

To destroy this wetland habitat would mean to destroy the only habitat of it's kind anywhere along the downtown riverfront, and rob these wonderful creatures of a place mother nature provided for them in which to live; there is no other place in the entire downtown/riverfront areas for them to go. There is a provision that another wetland area will be created somewhere not close to here to make up for this one being destroyed. Everything I have read, Including a study by the state of Tennessee, says creating a wetland doesn't work, and the best thing to do is not destroy one in the first place.

One final note. When we first moved into our house, there was a nice area of wetland at the northern tip of Mud Island. It included large trees that were of the size to have been there for a long time. In an attempt to "beautify" Mud Island, all of the vegetation, including the trees, was removed. Over the years, it grew back. In Phase One of the Beale Street Landing, not only was all of this newly formed wetland destroyed, the tip of Mud Island was altered and large boulders were brought in to cover the entire area. At present, the boulders are keeping the wetland from reforming but are doing nothing to stop erosion of the land underneath them. As long as the wetland was present, channel dredging started out in the middle of the channel between the two wetlands (between the shore wetland still present at the foot of Beale that we are trying to save and the wetland that was at the tip of Mud Island). They didn't have to dredge near the wetlands because they prevented sediment build up and also kept the land from eroding. Now that the wetland is gone, the first place dredged is at the tip, right up next to the bank. Just that small area of wetland at the end of Mud Island made that much of a difference!

In addition to saving the wetland from being destroyed, there are two more things I would like to see happen:

First, to help keep pollutants out of the Mississippi River, I would like for all storm drains (all drains that drain into the Wolf and Mississippi Rivers) to be labeled as such. In Seattle, all drains that drain into the ocean and waterways have a large fish and a warning against the dumping of any toxic substances into them painted on the concrete in front of them. I would like for the City to have an official list of substances that should not be dumped into the drains and a hefty fine for violators.

Second, at some point in the future, given that the BSL doesn't go through as currently planned, I would like to see the restoration of the wetland at the end of Mud Island that was destroyed. This could take place one of two ways.
  1. By removing the boulders, thus allowing mother nature to build it back over time, or;

  2. by removing the boulders and actively restoring the wetland. Or both.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

appreciate ur effort sir.....very informative cause it comes from someone who has lived and understood the importance of this wetland.....hope others understand it too, in time....