Sunday, August 25, 2002

Answers, Of A Sort

This week's Memphis Flyer is still light on factual reporting and columns, and long on opinion pieces. But in all that, there's this story about the Hyneman Mudslide. It's not bad, but you have to work for the good stuff.

They do a good job of finding the things the Commercial Appeal has missed. For example, they interview two men who were on the Harbor during the mudslide, and both report they felt no wake!

The story continues the frustrating habit, in the saga, of not finding the folks who actually approved any of what led to the slide, though the Flyer does unearth some news:
Henry Seawell of
Thompson Engineering in Mobile, Alabama...who has offered the services
of his firm to both the city and Hyneman, had not seen the
slide but told the Flyer it could have been caused by a
combination of rapidly falling water level and the dirt piled up
above the embankment.
This is the theory that the CA has been pushing, but another idea emerges throughout this one:
"The beauty of sand is that it kind of compacts itself," said
Mud Island Park project architect Roy Harrover. "The water
runs right out. We kept it in place by putting rock riprap all
the way around the park, on the Wolf River side as well as
the Mississippi River side. Houses built on sand, despite
what the Bible says, are pretty stable. We have had no

At any rate, there is "a slippery mess of
not very good soil around the Wolf River" that [Architect Roy] Harrover thinks
may have simply slid out from under the weight Hyneman
piled on top of it without stabilizing the bank.

Architect Tony Bologna, who worked with Henry Turley and
Jack Belz on the HarborTown development, said the slide
looks more like it was caused by a deep failure 50 or 60 feet
below ground....

The HarborTown site was
already above the
100-year flood mark and
did not have to be raised
when development began
nearly 15 years ago. Part
of Hyneman's site, in
contrast, was 20 feet
below the flood mark. It
had only been raised five feet at the time of the slide. The
laborious process involves spreading the fill dirt, disking it,
and letting it dry.

While that was going on, more dirt from the arena was
coming, 60 to 90 trucks an hour, over the Auction Street
Bridge. Like Lucille Ball trying to keep up with the candy
coming down the conveyor belt in the famous episode of I
Love Lucy or Mickey Mouse fighting the brooms in Fantasia,
Hyneman may have been overwhelmed. There was nothing to
do but pile the dirt 35 feet high....

Hyneman and Earwood had other ideas. They tried to get
approval for plans to build a high-rise hotel and
suburban-style planned development called Grand Island. The
proposal ignored OPD guidelines issued two years earlier
when Echelon had also shown interest in high-rise
construction on Mud Island.

"The limitation on height is based on soil conditions of the
island which would not support the pylons that would be
needed for a high-rise development," the 1999 OPD report

Hyneman withdrew the Grand Island plan when the Riverfront
Development Corporation (RDC) and Center City Commission
objected to it in June 2001. For another year, the land was
untouched. In May, Hyneman and his new partner, Jeff
Bronze, suddenly clear-cut the trees just as the excavation
began on the arena, which is being built on a tight schedule
and the promise that it will be completed on time. A couple of
weeks after the trees were cut, the trucks began hauling dirt
nonstop over the bridge to Mud Island.
At the rate of 60 to 90 trucks per hour, no less!
The application further says that Echelon's engineering
design "will address all applicable environmental concerns
related to floodplains, wetlands, shore protection, erosion
control, in addition to life and property safety and protection."

This is the zoning agreement that Hyneman assumed. One
thing it doesn't specifically address is the developer's
responsibility during the construction phase. Don Jones, who
reviewed the plans for the OPD, said there is nothing
restricting Hyneman or any developer from piling up dirt on
his land. The city engineer's office confirmed that there is
currently no requirement for a fill permit....

The spectacle was still drawing the curious, among them a
city engineer who did not want to be identified. A raft of
lawsuits is expected, and nobody wants to advertise their
availability. Already, the slide is drawing some comparisons
to the sinking MATA bus barns on a landfill on North Watkins
15 years ago that kept several law firms in business for
years. Standing on the bank of the harbor below The
Pyramid, the engineer dug a foot into the soft mud and sand
and said it appeared to be a case of "pore water pressure" in
a classic "Mohr's circle" pattern. In layman's terms, wet sand
and clay are porous and unstable until the water is squeezed
out. Put enough pressure behind it, and it moves.
Sorry for all the lengthy quoting, but what emerges from this is what I suspected from Day One. Hyneman didn't know what he was doing. Turley and Belz let him do it, to keep themseves out of any trouble and still profit. The new arena needed to get rid of a lot of dirt, fast and cheap. Hyneman appears to have piled it up faster than it could dry and become stable.

And still no word of any engineer that Hyneman consulted with or who signed off on this. As the Flyer notes, there's gonna be a lot of lawsuits eventually.

Until next time,
Your Working Boy

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