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Cobblestone Concerns

Opponents object to walkways and boulders in riverfront plan.

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Preservationists, members of Friends for Our Riverfront, and the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) all agree on one thing: The riverfront's historic cobblestone landing is in dire need of repair.

But the groups don't see eye to eye on how to go about the renovations.

In a standing-room-only meeting last week at the Balinese Ballroom downtown, RDC president Benny Lendermon shared restoration plans for the nation's largest remaining intact cobblestone landing. Opponents expressed concerns with parts of RDC's plan, such as the use of riprap (rough boulders) at the base of the landing, the construction of east/west walkways to the river's edge, and suitable water access for canoes and kayaks.

Thanks to erosion, dredging, and boat operations, many stones on the lower western edge have fallen into the water. Missing cobblestones throughout the six-acre landing have made for an unsafe walking surface.

"One of our objectives is to stabilize the western edge of the cobblestone field. Right now, it's unraveling like a baby's blanket," Lendermon said.

The RDC wants to build a one-foot-thick barrier wall at the base of the landing to hold remaining stones in place. Below that barrier, plans call for a stone revetment created from a combination of large and small boulders similar to the embankment in Tom Lee Park.

The use of riprap seemed to be opponents' number one concern at last week's meeting. "Riprap is a trash collector, and once that trash gets stuck in the rocks, there's no way to get down there and clear it out," June West of Memphis Heritage said.

West and several others suggested the RDC build a poured concrete slope, but Lendermon said that would double the cost of the project.

"He says that's more expensive, but Memphis Heritage is willing to help raise money to do the right thing," West said.

While no one voiced concern over plans to replace missing cobbles with salvaged stones or restoring the old river gage at the site, Sue Williams with Friends for Our Riverfront opposed the RDC's proposal to build three walkways leading to the river's edge.

"Sidewalks don't fit with historic preservation," Williams said.

But Lendermon contends that such walkways will be necessary if people intend to use the cobblestone landing for recreation, such as floating restaurants.

"I'm a little baffled that everybody wants floating restaurants but they don't want walkways to get down there," Lendermon said. "For historic reasons, we're not doing anything to 75 percent of the cobblestones. It'll still have the weaves and the ups and downs like it did originally. The walkways would provide an even walking surface."

Though not in its original plans, Lendermon said the RDC is considering covering the existing mud flat at the south end of the site so kayakers can load in there.

The Corps of Engineers, who issues permits for this project, will take written public comments through September 1st. Once comments are collected, some of the RDC's plans may be reworked.

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