The menu of items retrieved from the bottom of the Oklahoma River this month reads like the assembly list for an unearthly piece of public art.
Two vehicles — one of the sport-utility variety — dozens of rubber tires, scattered pieces of furniture and a menagerie of shopping carts from grocery stores citywide are on the shortlist of riverbed debris, said the assistant director of public works for Oklahoma City.
Paul Bronson said most the rest is just thick river silt and mud.
“If you go down there and look now, you will see some tires, you will see a couple shopping carts here and there — they haven't all been pulled out yet because it's still kind of wet down in there,” he said.
The eastern part of the Oklahoma River — really three reservoirs, fed by the North Canadian River and contained by a series of gates — was drained last week for the first time in several years so that the city could take care of several long-scheduled projects.
On one end, contractors are building a trench and setting walls for an inland extension of the river that will bring it within 400 feet of the Bricktown canals.
The city's utilities department is laying a new underground wastewater line at the other end.
Eric Wenger, public works director, said the river will remain dry until the first week in March, when the gates at Eastern Avenue will be closed and the reservoir will again fill with water.
River activities have been pushed to the central or western basins of the river, and riverside activities — such as the zip line and other aspects of the Downtown in December program — are not affected by the projects, he said.
“Obviously the preference is for most of those activities to take place in the east basin, but a lot of those activities have been moved,” Wenger said. “And this isn't the first time we've done this — we do it every few years just to clean the river.”
The river-canal project will allow visitors staying in hotels in the Meridian Avenue area to visit downtown using an entirely aquatic route. The $2.8 million project — including a dock, plaza and pedestrian bridge — was part of a bond package approved by city voters in 2007.
The wastewater line will increase capacity of an existing line that connects residential areas south of the river to the wastewater treatment plant to the north, said Debbie Ragan, spokeswoman for the city utilities department.
That's a $6 million project funded by the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust, she said.