EUNICE — More than a decade after the Eunice train derailment, the donation of more than $1 million for a project aimed at rehabilitating the Eunice City Lake is the “silver lining” to a catastrophe that affected many, U.S. District Judge Richard T. Haik said.
The $1 million rehabilitation project will include draining the lake, removing the existing fish population and restocking the lake with bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and sac-a-lait.
The entire project, which also includes physical improvements, is expected to be completed within 14 months, officials said.
Haik and numerous other officials involved with the project attended a special council meeting Tuesday for a formal presentation.
Eunice Mayor Claud “Rusty” Moody called it a “historic day” that would not have been possible without the help of many people.
The project announcement comes more than a decade after 33 of the 113 cars making up an eastbound Union Pacific Railroad train derailed northwest of Eunice, causing nearly 4,000 residents to be evacuated from their homes.
Fifteen of the derailed cars contained hazardous materials and chemicals, and two rail cars exploded, potentially sending their contents into the surrounding area, including Eunice City Lake.
Union Pacific agreed in 2004 to pay $65 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in connection with the derailment. There were about 10,000 claimants involved in the case.
After all the claimants had been paid, some residual funds were left over, said Haik, who presided over the case.
Some of those funds were donated to LSU in Eunice, a Eunice health clinic and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for a project involving the city, Haik said.
The largest donation was made to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation in the amount of $1,063,322 and was earmarked to fund improvements to the lake.
“This was an opportunity for the court system to give back to the community,” Haik said.
Existing facilities will be revitalized and a pavilion will be constructed as a revenue-generating space available to the community for private outdoor events, according to a news release about the donation.
Other improvements will include the construction of a deck and pier, restroom facility, picnic pavilions, nature walk, welcome center and asphalt road and parking. Repairs will be made to the existing fishing and boat dock, boat slip and the existing lake control structure will be replaced, according to the release.
Once the work is complete, Haik said, the lake will be a beautiful place that “people can be proud of.”
Eunice City Lake contains rough fish, such as bowfin (choupique). The lake has been given a clean bill of health but the regeneration of fish stock has not been ideal, said Kell McInnis, executive director of LWFF.
McInnis said the lake rehabilitation will start almost immediately after the council receives the funds.
The lake will first be drained and the existing fish will be removed. The lake will then be restocked in two phases, beginning this winter with smaller fish like bream. The bass will be restocked in the spring, McInnis said.
The funds will be formally presented Thursday during the city’s regularly scheduled council meeting.
Work is expected to begin soon after, McInnis said.