Does Dallas need a solar-powered garbage taxi for the Trinity?

At the risk of remembering the long-lost, or never-forgotten pastel-colored promise of solar-powered water taxis transporting us across the Trinity River, here we go.

Sometime this year, a giant insect-eyed thing will appear in Fort Worth floating on the Trinity River. It is a solar and water powered machine that removes waste from waterways. We’re glad Fort Worth is trying it first, given our city’s history of wild promises on our river. But here’s the thing: If it works in Fort Worth the way it has worked in other locations, Dallas should consider boarding “Mr. Garbage Wheel.”

Last week we spoke with John Kellett, inventor of the waste wheel and president of a Maryland company called Clearwater Mills that manufactures them. Kellett was a boat builder and director of the Baltimore Maritime Museum before the first of his creations were installed in Baltimore in 2006. Now there are four in Baltimore and another under construction in Panama City, Panama, he said. Other cities have expressed interest.

Last month, the Fort Worth City Council approved a program that will solicit private donations to install two of the wheels: one on the Clear Fork and one on the West Fork of the Trinity, northwest of downtown. In addition to private donations, the city is working with the Tarrant Regional Water District and nonprofit Streams & Valleys to fund the project, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The first wheel is expected to be operational in the fall.

Each wheel costs about $600,000 to build and $50,000 a year to maintain. Each wheel has the capacity to remove 50,000 pounds of waste per day, although Kellett said that kind of volume would be rare. Kellett said there is no authoritative estimate of the amount of trash in the Trinity, but he expects each wheel to collect between 50 and 150 tons per year. The highest volumes will come after heavy rains collect plastic, Styrofoam and other waste from across the watershed, he said.

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Kellett noted that Dallas benefits as much as Fort Worth does.

“I have to say I applaud Fort Worth,” he said. “It will be the first place that does as much for their downstream neighbors as it does for itself.”

After the first of these wheels appeared in Baltimore, the neighbors adopted it and gave it its own personality. Giant googly eyes were installed and it became Mr. Called Trash Wheel. Later versions were called Professor Trash Wheel, Captain Trash Wheel and Gwynnda the Good Wheel of the West. No announcement has yet been made about names for the Fort Worth versions, nor whether they will get “after market” improvements like googly eyes, although Brandon Bennett, Fort Worth’s director of code compliance, hinted at the Star-Telegram so they could look like covered wagons.

We hope the residents of Fort Worth adopt the lanky river critters as much as Baltimore does. More importantly, we hope this plan works and that Dallas will consider following suit. Unfortunately, the Trinity is polluted with our garbage, and a garbage wheel isn’t the only thing our region should be doing to clean it up. Better than cleaning up litter, we need to make sure that this litter is not thrown away. The same goes for chemicals, building materials and other pollutants.

Fort Worth is committed to caring for the part of the river we share. If it does indeed keep the river cleaner and more pleasant, Dallas should investigate to do the same. But thanks to Fort Worth for taking the first test drive.

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