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  • Flood Control project turns up massive amount of debris in Pantano Wash

    Mar 03, 2017 | Read More News
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    File: Pantano Wash Linear Park projectA bank reinforcement project along a section of the Pantano Wash has turned up a massive amount of scrap metal, concrete and other material buried in the riverbed, including rejected grave markers, old car bodies, tires and household trash.

    The debris turned up in several spots as contractors excavated sand from the riverbed downstream from the Tanque Verde Road Bridge.

    “There’s so much junk it boggles the mind,” said Eddie Paul Garcia, an inspector with Psomas Civil Engineering, the construction administration firm overseeing the project. “It’s really amazing how much stuff people in previous generations would dump in the river here.”

    Crews began clearing sediment along the south bank of the Pantano back in October, digging 8 to 10 feet below the current bed. Some of the sand has been used to create “soil cement” which, once hardened, will provide a sturdy and waterproof barrier to protect the hundreds of homes and businesses on Grant Road that sit along the waterway from Tanque Verde Road to just past Fort Lowell Park. The remaining sand is then returned to the riverbed and banks.

    The project also has allowed construction on the Pantano’s west bank of a 1.3-mile stretch of The Loop, Pima County’s popular multi-use path, which will include a viewing/sitting area behind Costco Wholesale, a staging area for bicycle and horseback riders at Glenn Street and Sahuara Avenue near Fort Lowell Park and a pedestrian bridge over Rose Hill Wash on the west bank. Existing bank protection along the east side of the Pantano will be extended about 1,300 feet to protect five homes in Tucson Country Club.

    File: Pantano Wash Linear Park projectEstimates put the amount of scrap metal found at 80 tons, including dozens of cars and shopping carts. Diggers also turned up 10 tons of tires, 240 tons of concrete and an estimated 50 headstones, though none of those were associated in any way with burial sites but rather had some sort of flaw, either in design or spelling. The project also resulted in the removal of 2,400 tons of plant material - nearly all invasive species - which were ground into mulch and hauled in 60 truckloads to a farm in Marana.

    Most of the cars found appear to be models from the 1950s and 1960s, something that doesn’t surprise Larry Robison, Public Works Division Manager with the Pima County Regional Flood Control District. Robison said using old car bodies to shore up river banks was common practice for decades. 

    “In the 1970s, people finally wised up to the fact it’s not doing us any good,” Robison said. “You’re leaving an old junker, which often has the battery left in it, so you’re polluting the wash while not doing much to actually re-enforce the bank.”

    While the possibility of gasoline or other automotive fluids or battery acid leaking into the sediment from cars buried decades ago is remote, the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality always remains on the lookout for “wildcat dumping” of any kind.

    “Our saying here is ‘trash begets more trash,” said DEQ Waste Program and Enforcement Manager Jennifer Lynch. “So when someone dumps something like a car or something big in a wash, then neighbors see it and think ‘oh, it’s a new landfill, I’m going to dump my trash here too.’”

    File: Pantano Wash Linear Park projectLarge amounts of household refuse found during the project probably got there after people living nearby started using the large open pits left behind by abandoned gravel quarries along the banks of the Pantano.

    A major source of illegal dumping in Pima County comes from unlicensed contractors who offer to do yard work and then haul the brush and bulky material left over to a landfill but then instead find an out-of-the-way location to leave the stuff and then pocket the fee.

    “What we tell people to do is pay half up front and then pay the other half when you get a receipt from a landfill to ensure that you aren’t getting scammed,” said Lynch, adding that if DEQ inspectors find proof that items at an illegal dump site originated at a particular home or business, the residents or management can be held responsible.

    The scrap metal found so far continues to be stored on-site until a sufficient quantity accumulates for it to be hauled away for recycling. Most of the concrete and larger stones and boulders dug up will be used to re-enforce sections of the east bank of the Pantano as additional protection for Tucson Country Club. Select pieces of concrete and stone will be piled in remote parts of the wash to serve as habitat for lizards and other animal life.

    Media who would like to take a look at the project site may contact Heidi Lasham, Senior Resident Engineer with Psomas Civil Engineering by phone at (520) 237-6301 or Email.

    To report illegal dumping, call the Department of Environmental Quality at (520) 724-7400 or the Wildcat Dumping Hotline at (520) 622-5800 or complete an Environmental Complaint Form online.

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