Less than 10 days remain in a cease-and-desist order issued by the Corps of Engineers that halted the clearing of trees and underbrush from the east banks of the Wolf River Harbor.
The clearing, initiated by Mayor A C Wharton's administration, began in December, when more than 1,000 yards of trees and underbrush were razed from the riverbank — with much of the clearing occurring on the bank below the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.
Shortly after, the Corps issued a cease-and-desist order to the city because they were operating without proper environmental permits.
"To me, it's not a silly, minor issue. They need to do some serious mitigation for this," said local environmental activist Naomi Van Tol, who noted the irony of a massive clearing she calls "unnecessary" occurring directly below a retail giant that touts conservancy as a core principle of their mission.
Van Tol and other environmentalists have several concerns about the clearing, but the potential destabilization of the riverbank stands out.
"Many of those trees are over a hundred years old. The trees, the underbrush ... that's what was holding the bank together," said Van Tol, who witnessed large amounts of dirt being removed from the bank and dumped in the harbor.
Should any portion of the harbor collapse and create the need for corrective action, the cost will likely be shouldered by taxpayers, Van Tol said.
Gregg Williams, chief of the regulatory branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, signed off on the public notice of the cease-and-desist, but he would not speculate on potential damage.
"We're not for or against the project. We'll look at the comments. We'll look at the assessment, and then we'll make a decision once we have all of the information we'll need," Williams said.
Jack Sammons, the former chief administrative officer for the city, initially authorized the clearing as part of the Bass Pro public-private partnership to redevelop the Pyramid and the surrounding area. The clearing of the trees was to provide unobstructed views for patrons of Bass Pro and to make way for a floating boat dock for Bass Pro's planned fishing tournaments.
Van Tol is quick to point out that an unobstructed view was already available from the observation deck, and the floodwalls surrounding the Pyramid already restrict view into the harbor and river.
"There was absolutely no point in the clearing. None," Van Tol said.
When contacted, Bass Pro would only say that they had nothing to do with the decision to cut down trees.
"We were unaware that any trees were ordered cut down around our facility. This was conducted by the City of Memphis. This was not our decision," Bass Pro spokesperson Jack Wlezien said.
An after-the-fact permit for continued work could be issued by the Corps, but according to Mayor Jim Strickland's Chief Communications Officer Ursula Madden, no further clearing work is being planned at this time.