JUSTICE, W.Va. — Social media has created a different perspective on everything in our society today.  Pictures shared across Facebook of a massive raft of floating debris and trash on R.D. Bailey Lake created a lot of angst among users.   Many, just seeing the pictures, were outraged and incensed.  But, there are a couple of things many who had an understandably negative reaction didn’t know.

First, such log jams of driftwood and plastic bottles are not uncommon on any body of water in West Virginia.  Second, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has procedures in place to clean the mess up and finally, this one is comparatively small.

“We put a boom on that one about 700 feet long,” said Brian Morgan, Project Manger for the Corps at R.D. Bailey Dam. “That one was pretty small compared to some we’ve had.  I’ve seen them where the debris covers up to 45 acres.  This recent high water event we went up about 15 feet. There are other times we’ve gone up 50 and our pool of record we went up to 112 feet.”

The Corps encircles the floating load of garbage with booms and has plenty to spread wider if necessary.  Once the last of what is expected to come flowing downstream has arrived, the whole mess is moved to a designated corner of the lake and tied off to the bank out of the way.

“We have areas we know of that are submerged at certain elevations. We secure that drift and debris with the boom off the shoreline,” he explained. “Then when the lake level returns to summer pool, that drift and debris is dry-docked on the land and is out of the way to boaters to create a safe boating environment.”

Most Corps lakes collect the debris in similar fashion.  Others, like Bluestone Dam in Summers County, have specialized gates which allow the material to be flushed through the dam and moved downstream.   R.D. Bailey doesn’t have that kind of equipment, so in necessitates a big project when fall rolls around.

“It’s very labor intensive. We’ll actually pick through and remove all of the trash we can and stack the woody material into burn piles,” Morgan said. “We’ll obtain a permit from the Division of Forestry and burn the woody material.”

Although it’s a big job, it is effective in cleaning up the lake every year.  It’s the Corps’ process of dealing with what will always be a never ending problem.

“The Guyandotte River starts up in Rhodell, then comes down through Pineville, Mullens, Brenton and then into the lake,” Morgan said. “All that drift and debris you see in those photographs comes from that stretch of area.”

The July 2001 flood, which caused severe flooding along the Guyandotte upstream, was so severe, the lake had to be shutdown until November to clean out the accumulated debris.  Morgan doubted the most recent event would cause much of a problem, despite the outcry on social media over the photographs.

The debris pile represents a grand opportunity for volunteers who want to get involved in public service by helping pick thorough the pile and remove the garbage.  You can contact the Huntington District to learn more about the opportunities for your organization to assist.

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