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Letter from the Editor

Memphis needs to do something about its dirty harbor.

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At one time or another, you've probably heard that old garage-rock classic "Dirty Water," by the Standells. It was about the band's love of their hometown of Boston and the "River Charles." It ended like this:

"Well, I love that dirty water.

Oh, Boston you're my home."

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Boston ain't got nothing on Memphis. We've got our own dirty water, and Memphis is our home. When you read John Branston's City Beat column this week, you'll learn about the mass of flotsam and jetsam that has gathered at the base of the new $42.5 million Beale Street Landing. A massive load of trash, driftwood, and other detritus is trapped between the shore and the gangplank that leads down to the river.

To make matters worse, as John reports, the majestic American Queen pulls in on Saturday with more than 400 passengers, and the first thing they will see, barring a quick cleanup, is the floating trash lagoon. Not a good first impression, to say the least.

This mess isn't the fault of Beale Street Landing (though the design, which makes getting a cleanup boat into the area difficult, leaves something to be desired). No, it's our fault. Memphians are the ones who toss litter onto the street, where it gets into storm drains and eventually the river and harbor. Litter perpetually lines the banks and the water of the harbor at our front door. It's especially bad when the Mississippi River level falls and the trash is left on the shoreline.

It's unsightly, and with Bass Pro building a dock on the harbor and the new BSL about to happen, we should do something about it. Like Boston did.

In 2004, a group of citizens in Beantown became so appalled at the amount of junk floating in the Charles River, they formed a nonprofit organization and bought a small cleanup boat. It patrols the river four times a week (an area much larger than the Wolf River harbor, by the way) and picks up trash from the water and shoreline. Almost 10 years later, according to the group's website (cleanupboat.org), they usually gather less than two full trash bags per trip. It's an idea that might work for Memphis, and it wouldn't require nearly as much time or manpower as it does in Boston.

Another, probably better, option would be for the city to buy and man a cleanup boat. If we're going to encourage people — tourists and locals — to go down to the riverfront, we ought to figure out a way to keep it clean.

Bruce VanWyngarden
brucev@memphisflyer.com

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