Chain Saws 1, Trees 1 

Chain Saws 1, Trees 1

And they said it would take years to build a land bridge to Mud Island.

This one is really hard to believe.

A man-made mountain of dirt on Mud Island slides into the harbor and closes it, scouring the very mud from the bottom and pushing it to the base of The Pyramid.

For weeks before the big slide, residents of Harbor Town and visitors to Mud Island had watched with interest and -- for some of us -- concern as developers first cleared the trees on the last undeveloped piece of Mud Island and then piled up a mountain of dirt nearly as high as the Auction Street bridge from the NBA arena excavation. Three months ago, before anyone else took notice, the Flyer ran a picture and story ("Chain Saws 1, Trees 0") about the clear-cutting going on at what one of our staffers dubbed Hyneman Acres in honor of developer Kevin Hyneman.

To us laymen, it sure looked like an awful lot of nice trees had been cleared in an awfully big hurry. And the deal to truck all that dirt from the hole dug for the arena to a development a mile away that just so happened to need a lot of dirt sure seemed, shall we say, convenient. And the growing pile of dirt on an island of mud and sand known as much as anything for its geological instability sure seemed curious. Castles in the sand and all that. And we seemed to remember something in elementary school about how trees are our friends because, in addition to giving us shade and two-by-fours, they hold soil in place.

But, hey, with all those engineers and architects and project managers and consultants working for the city, the county, M.A. Mortenson Contractors, the Riverfront Development Corporation, Hyneman Homes, and the New Memphis Arena Public Building Authority, surely they knew what they were doing.

Now it appears some of them do and some of them don't. Hard to say which is which, though. We hear that at least one engineer is saying, with a straight face, that it had to be an earthquake. In other words, God did it. There isn't enough dirt in the land bridge to bury all the officials trying to cover their asses on this one. Or the lawyers eager to establish liability.

While it's all being sorted out, here's another kind of erosion that bears looking into: the erosion of authority and accountability that's going on in local government.

Kevin Hyneman had a plan for housing on Mud Island. The Office of Planning and Development (OPD), a joint city and county agency, did not particularly like it and said so. One issue noted in the reports is the large amount of fill needed to bring the land above flood level. So, after years of delay, Hyneman agreed to sell his site to proven downtown developer Henry Turley. But first, he clear-cut the land and made a deal to truck fill dirt from the arena site.

If there were ever any doubts that Hyneman should stick to the suburban-tract subdivisions that are his specialty, they are erased now. Someone blundered in calculating how much dirt could be piled on Mud Island. But somebody else had to sign off on those plans and the deal with the arena. A homeowner can't dump a load of dirt or trash from his backyard without getting a permit. In this case, whole city blocks of dirt were being dumped.

And that's where it gets confusing. The city engineer, county engineer, OPD, Memphis Park Commission, and Division of Public Works have all, at one time or another, had a say-so in what went on along the riverfront or at The Pyramid. In the last four years, the RDC and PBA were created, luring the former public-works director and city and county engineers into their service. The appointment of the current city engineer was approved only this month.

Government was supposedly too cumbersome for big deals like the arena or the riverfront. But, at least with government, you had clear lines of authority. And no landslides.

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