Lackawanna River Banks Still Bear Unsightly Evidence Of Summer Floods

November 12, 2018
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Water Power: Lackawanna River Banks Still Bear Unsightly Evidence Of Summer Floods

SCRANTON — Thousands of scraps of plastic debris snagged high up in trees along the banks of a half-mile stretch of the Lackawanna River in South Side are unsightly evidence of heavy rains that deluged the waterway in the summer.

Orange and white plastic mesh debris littering branches and vegetation along the river near East Elm Street came from the Harrison Avenue Bridge construction site about 1 mile upstream in Roaring Brook, a tributary to the Lackawanna, state Department of Transportation spokesman James May said.

PennDOT will remove the construction-site debris from the riverbank, May said.

Stormwater surges in August washed away the plastic materials from the foot of the bridge construction and demolition site, May said.

At that time, PennDOT cleaned debris from Roaring Brook in the area immediately downstream from the bridge. No one realized the high water carried the debris much farther away, through the smooth concrete-wall-lined sections of lower Roaring Brook and eventually into the Lackawanna River, he said.

The waterways converge behind South Side Bowl, just before a sharp bend in the Lackawanna opens into a straight section toward and beyond the East Elm Street bridge.

Visually jarring, the littered stretch of riverscape resembles something out of a horror movie. Upon seeing the expanse of debris from a vantage on the East Elm Street bridge, Lackawanna River Conservation Association Executive Director Bernie McGurl

said, “Oh, my God — so unsightly.”

He had not previously seen debris stuck so high up in trees — a good 15 feet or more — along the riverbank. He also marveled at the force of water that dislodged and carried for more than 1 mile the construction-site material, which appeared to be soil-retention and sand-bag plastic mesh and tarps, as well as large wooden planks used for heavy vehicles to drive on silt or mud.

“That’s one heck of a flood,” McGurl said.

There was no plastic debris in the river at the confluence with Roaring Brook, or a short distance upstream in the river at the Broadway/Hickory Street bridge.

But some small scraps of orange and white plastic mesh were visible in the Roaring Brook channel at its confluence with the river, as well as upstream in the brook, near the historic Scranton Iron Furnaces along Cedar Avenue.

Alerted by The Times-Tribune, PennDOT immediately went to the East Elm Street bridge area

and determined the debris in the Lackawanna River came from the Harrison Avenue Bridge site. PennDOT crews will clean it up.

That cleanup may take a few weeks to complete, May said.

If not removed, the plastic material eventually would break down and wash down the Lackawanna into the Susquehanna River, Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean.

“It’ll become microplastic and end up in the ocean. It’s an unfortunate situation,” McGurl said.

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