By Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat
Published Thursday, September 16, 2010
NATCHEZ — Gary Blackwell has been in a few swamps in his lifetime, but never like the one the airboat operator was in Wednesday morning.
Instead of touring people up and down the Pearl River, Blackwell was giving tours of the Natchez Wastewater Treatment Plant lagoon along River Terminal Road.
In fact, Blackwell didn’t make just one tour. He made several hundred tours as he helped the city rid the lagoon of a thick mat of vegetation and weeds.
It was all part of the Natchez Water Works’ current efforts to convert sludge at the bottom of these lagoons into fertilizer.
Plans are to dredge up the sludge and then dry it in greenhouses. In order to get to the sludge, the water had to be cleared of the weeds and grass that have grown in the middle of lagoon.
“The problem is that the lagoon is 350 feet wide,” Water Works Superintendent David Gardner said. “We couldn’t find a spraying arm that could reach out far enough to kill the vegetation.”
Applying weed killer from a boat seemed the best option. But using a regular boat would not do.
“The water is only a few inches deep in the middle,” Gardner said. “Using an airboat seemed to be the most cost effective option.”
Luckily, Gardner had just learned of Blackwell and his operation on the Pearl River in Columbia.
“Using wind power allows the boat to cut through weeds and allows our men to spray the chemical to kill the grass,” Gardener said.
Gardner had hoped Blackwell would be able to stop and start his boat in the middle of the lagoon in order to more accurately apply the chemical. But the vegetation is too thick for that.
“We prefer that he stop so that we can get a real good application of the weed killer. But he can’t do that without getting stuck,” he said.
Instead, Blackwell gave swamp tours at top speed to Water Works employee Richard Emanuel and Richard Cupit, who applied the chemical as the boat cut through the lagoon.
After the weeds die and decompose in the lagoon, Gardner plans to use the city’s new dredger to start harvesting the sludge.
With the greenhouses complete and only a few items remaining to finish, the city hopes to begin using the new sludge drying process in the next couple of weeks.
“We are about 90 percent done with the project. Pretty much everything is in place,” Gardner said.
As far as starting regular swamp tours of the Natchez Wastewater Treatment Plant lagoon, Gardner said not to expect them anytime soon. “I don’t think (the Department of Environmental Quality) would allow it,” he said.
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