Jackson County

Every ton picked up helps Pascagoula River tourism, environment

Renew Our Rivers returns to clean the Pascagoula shoreline

Mississippi Power volunteers clear debris from Pascagoula River.
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Mississippi Power volunteers clear debris from Pascagoula River.

Hauling a refrigerator off the Pascagoula River can be as easy as pulling up to it in a skiff, tying on a small rope, maneuvering it out of the log jam and gently floating it along behind the boat.

Or it can be as complicated as having two strong men drag one up onto a sandbar, dump the water, collect the nasty contents, lift one end onto the bow of a boat and heave the rest of it onto the boat, pushing with all the muscle available.

Mississippi Power Co. employees used both techniques on Thursday as they participated in the annual Renew Our Rivers cleanup of the Pascagoula.

This was the 11th year for Renew, sponsored by Mississippi Power. Just since 2008, the company has hauled 40 tons of water heaters, refrigerators, folding chairs, tent frames, pieces of boat, road markers, umbrellas, 55-gallon drums and anything else you could imagine falling or washing into the river that drains about 1/3 of Mississippi.

People don’t dump in the river. They dump in the woods and natural river flooding floats it all out and it ends up in the river.

Jeff Wilkinson, Eco-Tours of South Mississippi

On Thursday, they added another 4 tons to that total.

“One of the more interesting things I’ve seen in the cleanup,” said Jeff Shepard, with Mississippi Power, “is a skiff that size hauling in a roof — pulling behind it a whole roof from a house.”

Within a quarter-mile of the river on Thursday, there were two refrigerators and a hot water heater stuck in log jams along the banks. In the same vicinity was a special sand bar where the threatened, yellow blotched saw-back turtle will go next spring to nest and lay its eggs.

A corporate effort

The corporate program covers 20 waterways in the Mississippi Power service area of 23 counties. This year, they have cleaned Bayou Bernard, Turkey Creek, Biloxi Bay, Gulfport Lake, Henderson Point and Clermont Harbor on the Coast.

“We do it where we see the need, but the Pascagoula River is an annual event,” Shepard said, and it has company vendors and other industry that helps with the effort. However, more than 100 of the volunteers on the river Thursday were workers from the power company’s Plant Daniel, just up the river.

The first year after Katrina, the Renew effort pulled 40 full-sized refrigerators off the Pascagoula River. On the ground, one weighs 295 pounds. Floating, they’re easier to move.

Boat captain Jeff Wilkinson, who runs Eco-Tours of South Mississippi out of Gautier, explained how appliances wind up in the Pascagoula River.

“We hope nobody says, ‘Let’s throw a hot water heater in the river,’” Wilkinson said. “People don’t dump in the river. They dump in the woods and natural river flooding floats it all out and it ends up in the river.”

He pointed out that major flooding in the spring brought a lot of big debris.

It helps tourism too

Wilkinson, whose business relies on the condition of the Pascagoula, the country’s largest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states, said he has tour customers from all over the world. He sees picking up trash along the river as an economic development tool.

“We want to make a good impression,” he said.

John Atherton, vice president of public relations and environmental affairs, said they see it more as helping the environment.

“The river cleanup is a cornerstone program from our environmental stewardship,” Atherton said.

So from 7 a.m. to about 3 p.m. on Thursday, volunteers collected two dumpsters full, that included four refrigerators and one 16-foot derelict boat