By Haley Huntington
New Orleans, January 17, 2013 - After a solid 14 hours on the road from St. Louis, we finally arrived In New Orleans on Thursday night (technically, Friday morning).
The team made several stops along the way, however. First, we followed the path of the Mississippi to Thebes Landing, an RV Park and camp ground located on the river’s banks and owned by local resident Neal Day. Thebes has drawn a lot of attention
over the last seven months because of rock blasting by the Army Corps of Engineers, which has worked to ensure that the Mississippi has remained navigable for commercial shipping.
Although a Thebes business owner for only three years, Day was practically an expert on the history, culture and commerce in area. It helps that he grew up and went to school in Southern Illinois.
With his full head of silver hair and a commanding voice, the tall, rugged Day braved the cold wind and provided great insight as to what it was like for tiny Thebes, population 500, to be suddenly thrust into the national spotlight.
Day also knew a great deal about the history of Thebes. Pointing to a structure atop a hill about a quarter of a mile away, Day
explained that the building was the local courthouse in which the slave Dred Scott had been imprisoned in the 1850s while awaiting trial!
For those in need of a refresher on their U.S. history, Scott was an African American slave who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom and that of his wife and their two daughters. In what is popularly known as the“Dred Scott Decision,” the U.S. Supreme Court voted against Scott 7-2, finding that neither Scott nor any other person of African heritage had the right to declare citizenship in the United States, and furthermore, had no standing in a U.S. federal court. The case enraged both sides in the slavery debate and is often cited as a contributing factor to the Civil War and its aftermath.
Day had to run to meet friends for a prime rib lunch, so we thanked him and went on our merry way to our next destination: Memphis, Tennessee. The world-famous Beale Street (and its restaurants) were must-sees, as was Elvis Presley's Graceland Mansion.
After some sustenance and sightseeing, the team began the six-hour haul to New Orleans. Hilarious family stories, fits of
interpretive dance by team members, and some napping helped us pass the time.
We were glad to finally arrive in New Orleans to get a few hours of sleep before another packed day of interviews. But more importantly, we were excited for a break from ourconfused GPS sassily telling us to "make the next available U-Turn" every 10 seconds.
All Aboard the Dredge Potter
By Kortney Scroger
ST. LOUIS, Mo., January 16, 2013--Ever wonder what it would be like to float in the middle of the storied Mississippi River? Today, the Tapped Out documentary team did just that.
Our adventure began just after 8 a.m. Tired of freezing in what feels like arctic conditions to us Northwesterners, all of us were bundled up against the cold, wearing multiple pairs of wool socks and fleece beanies.
We embarked on an hour-long car ride headed South to the small riverbank town of St. Genevieve, Mo. The sight we beheld after our long journey was well worth the wait. It was the vessel we were about to board: The Dredge Potter, a 72-year-old Army Corps of Engineers workhorse that works the river 24/7/365 to keep the shipping lanes open and navigable for commerce.
After shooting some footage from the parking lot, the first challenge was getting to the dock. Because of the Mississippi’s low water levels, the river has receded by some 30 feet.
The MediaLab crew, loaded down with heavy camera equipment, cautiously tottered down a steep rock embankment. Awaiting us was a boat to transport us to the Potter, located out in the middle of the Mississippi.
Capt. Thomas George was our tour guide for the afternoon. When we first began filming George was apprehensive in front of the camera. But once he began talking about the dredge and what he and his 50-person team do each day, it felt as if we became part of his crew.
When we concluded George's formal interview, we went on a tour of the ship, which is four stories tall and more than 1,400 feet long. The captain first took us first to the "dustpan" end of the dredge, where all of the waste picked up from river, such as tree branches and rocks, are deposited.
The objective of a dredge is to clear the river of sediment and debris that could impede traffic. The current low levels of the river require significantly more dredging in order to provide ships with the necessary depths. In an average year, the crew works at roughly 30 sites along a 300-mile stretch of the Mississippi. Because of the Mississippi’s current conditions, the Potter dredged doubled in the past year.
From the dustbin, we headed to the control and engine rooms. Throughout the tour it was evident that Capt. George and his crew truly love their jobs and believe in what they’re doing to help keep the Mississippi River navigable for those who rely on it. Love of their work is a good thing considering they live on this boat for days at a time.
Our ride on the Potter with Capt. George and his crew provided us with countless visuals and some answers to our most burning questions.
But it is becoming apparent that we still have more to learn about water than we ever could have imagined.
By Haley Huntington
ST. LOUIS, January 15, 2013 – Day Two brought the Tapped Out team some intriguing, yet opposing views.
In the morning, we visited Washington University of St. Louis to speak with Dr. Robert Criss, a professor of geochemistry. Immediately after, we headed to the offices of the St. Louis District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
After getting slightly lost in the long hallways of Rudolph Hall at Washington University, we finally located the office of Dr. Criss. All of us were thankful to be doing an interview indoors after spending much of our first day outside in 20-degree weather.
We began setting up our equipment, but found ourselves bumping into things stacked around the room.
“Oh, you can move those boxes,” said Dr. Criss. They’re just full of rocks.” Clearly, we were in the office of a geologist.
Right off, it became clear that we were in for a day of diverging opinions regarding water scarcity and quality. Dr. Criss was quick to tell us he’s no fan of the dredging, demolition and other engineering currently underway on the Mississippi River. Essentially, Criss said he believes that human intervention prevents the river from doing its job, which is to move water and sediment – on its own.
Dr. Criss provided interesting insights into how current the drought has been portrayed in the media. He made it clear that we should always be hesitant to believe everything we see and hear in the mass media without researching issues ourselves.
By looking at charts and graphs on Dr. Criss’ computer of the Mississippi’s historical flows, we learned that there have been several years in which the drought was as bad, and even worse, than current conditions. In Criss’ opinion, we may be down, but not out.
Since Dr. Criss was singing a significantly different tune than what we had previously heard, the team began to think more deeply as we made our way to downtown St. Louis for our visit with the Army Corps of Engineers.
We suddenly had a lot more questions about the dredging and rock removal occurring on the Mississippi, such as “Where does the sediment go when it is removed?” “Are these practices sustainable?” “What impact does the dredging have on river ecosystems?”
We went through the equivalent of airport security in order to enter the Young Federal Building where a host federal agency offices such as the Government Services Administration, the Labor Dept. and many others, are co-located.
Mike Peterson, Director of Public Affairs for the St. Louis District of the Corps of USACE, gave us a tour of the offices. Mike told us that he and his colleagues have done more than 500 interviews about drought in the past few months. Nonetheless, many heads turned with puzzled gazes as we waddled about the hallways lugging our camera equipment.
We visited the Corps’ Water Control Division, where I played photographer. My job was to shoot stills and supplementary B-roll footage, while my "Tapped Out" teammate Katie Baumann probed specialists about the operations of dams, levees, and locks.
I quickly became mesmerized by the six large television screens streaming real-time data of water levels and CFS (cubic feet per second) in various rivers and waterways within the 28,000 square mile area that the St. Louis ASACE District oversees.
As a visual learner, I found one of the most insightful and entertaining portions of our day to be our trip to the Applied River Engineering Center (AREC). We entered a spacious room with six rivers flowing through it. The rivers were indeed real. They were just modeled on a much smaller scale.
Each model, which represented a particular section of a river, simulated the actual flow patterns of the waterways, including the Mississippi. The team got up close and personal with these mini-rivers, and got to witness how and why manipulation of a river occurs from an engineering standpoint.
Though dredging may not be ideal, the models did show how the method allows waterways to remain open during a drought such as the one currently affecting the Mississippi.
Having now heard both sides of the human intervention argument, the team has a much more well-rounded view of the issues. In a documentary such as Tapped Out, which aims to examine complexities, showcasing multiple viewpoints is crucial, especially since policies and activities can affect individual stakeholders very differently. Opposing opinions will help us produce a film that is thoughtful and informed.
At the conclusion of our visit to AREC, we hopped into the minivan and headed for the McKinley Bridge just outside of downtown, where we got to witness the full-sized magnitude of the model structures we saw at AREC. They are much larger in person!
To ensure that the next day’s filming would not not hindered by frost-bitten videographers, we paid a visit to the nearest Target store to outfit ourselves apparel more appropriate in 20-degree weather.
We can’t wait to see what’s up next! Stay tuned for Day 3 on the “Big Muddy!”
By Kortney Scroger
ST. LOUIS, Mo., January 14, 2013 – After landing in St. Louis a mere 24 hours prior, the MediaLab Water Team began Day One of filming. Our location for today was JB Marine Co, a barge cleaning and repair company located in St. Louis, right on the banks of the Mississippi which often affectionately called the “Big Muddy.”
Our interviewee was George Foster, JB Marine’s owner, president and co-founder. George has worked on the river for 48 years. So, he had a lot to share about the Mississippi, both personally and professionally.
With the temperature outside a frosty 19 degrees, we arrived on site and were immediately pegged as out-of-towners. A woman approached, took one look at us and said, "You're not from Missouri, are you?"
Our fashionable light jackets and stylish flat shoes were apparently red flags.
After that, we were warmly greeted by Mr. Foster, a grandfatherly figure who insisted that we call him “George.” He invited us into his company’s temporary office spaces. As a result of record-low levels on the river, George’s office, which usually floats on the water more than 100 yards away, is now indefinitely stuck on shore. (More on this later).
We began our tour of JB Marine’s facilities by taking a ride on the Patrick Kapper, a maintenance vessel named after George’s late son-in-law, who died three years ago in his early 50s. Carrying cameras and tripods, we donned bright orange life jackets and unintentionally skated across the boat’s icy deck and up a steep flight of stairs.
Once on the boat, filming began. My job was to brave the wind and cold to capture George and the river through my camera lens. Some highlights of the journey included filming the JB Marine Co. dry docks and seeing a massive barge that was stuck on shore because of current low water levels.
After the boat ride, George took us to his old office so we could conduct a formal interview. His former floating headquarters, which the company had occupied for more than 30 years, began tilting in June 2012 as the river began shrinking.
George and his workers decided to rent the new temporary space because the river’s dramatic decline had caused the permanent building to slant at a 10 degree angle, making it impossible to walk straight or even sit in one spot without sliding from one side of a room to the other.
Our visit with George Foster has given me and the other team members better insights into the Mississippi River’s importance, not only for those who live and work on it, but also on a national and global scale.
Working as long as we could stand the 20 degree weather, we also visited other iconic St. Louis landmarks such as the St. Louis Gateway Arch and the downtown waterfront.
Day One of filming was a successful learning experience. Every day that we work on this documentary, my team and I hone our skills, whether it be operating a video camera or conducting interviews.
I can't wait to see what the next nine days have in store for us.