An ambitious plan to revitalize the Baton Rouge lakes that is expected to cost as much as $40 million could receive just $3 million in state construction funds this year, with even that amount not guaranteed to materialize.
The lake restoration plan is included in the final capital outlay bill to the tune of $13 million, but only the $3 million to kick off the planning process is realistically in the pipeline.
For that amount to move forward requires the approval of the State Bond Commission this fall. If approved, that cash would be used to fully sketch out the conceptual plan to restore the lakes under development by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
Although Baton Rouge lawmakers were quick to emphasize that none of the money is assured, John Spain, BRAF’s executive vice president, celebrated even being included in the budget bill.
“We very much appreciate the Legislature giving us the funding for this year,” he said.
State Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, said the extra $10 million could become a reality eventually, but only after further debate in the Legislature.
“It would need to come up for additional discussion and testimony next year to get approval and possibly make that funding a reality,” he said.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said the original $40 million request was pared back because there were so many other pressing demands, especially in a tight budget year that left many projects on the cutting room floor.
“In the current state, you just can’t justify $40 million for a lake project when you have health demands, higher education demands and road demands,” Claitor said. “The pie is only so big.”
In fact, Claitor said he tried to get some of the $13 million moved out of the Baton Rouge lakes projects and into other work, but the amendment failed.
If the $3 million for planning is approved, the money would go to a new nonprofit, created by BRAF, called the Louisiana Lakes Conservancy.
For more than a year, the foundation has been pursuing an effort to come up with a master plan for the lakes that would address environmental issues as well as improving recreational opportunities around the six-lake system near LSU. A draft of that master plan unveiled in May would include dredging sediment from the lakes to make them deeper, as well as improving sidewalks, trail lighting, boat launches and more.
“Clearly $13 million isn’t going to do all that needs to be done,” Spain said. Although the foundation agreed to spearhead and fund the master plan development, it was always known that finding money for construction would come from outside the foundation, he said.
Spain acknowledged that asking for the full $40 million estimated cost of the project was an aggressive move, but said it was an amount suggested by the Jindal administration.
If the Bond Commission approves the $3 million later this year, the money will allow for engineering and design work to transform the concepts in the master plan into items that could be put out for bid.
“Between now and next year, completing that work is critical,” Spain said.
It’s likely that the issue will come before the commission this fall.
If the money is approved, it would likely be about a year before the construction plan could be completed. The construction plan will be laid out so that the work can be done in phases, depending on how much money is available at any given time, he said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.