As planning for the restoration of the Baton Rouge lakes continues in advance of the May release of a draft blueprint for the project, a big unanswered question has lingered about the lack of dedicated money to cover construction costs.
That answer could come in the form of $40 million included in House Bill 2, the state’s capital outlay bill filed on Wednesday.
The proposed capital outlay includes $10 million this fiscal year to the Louisiana Lakes Conservancy as requested by the Gulf Coast Restoration and Protection Foundation, a supporting organization formed by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. In addition, the bill calls for $30 million to be available in future years for construction. The conservancy was formed to focus on ways to improve the Baton Rouge lakes.
According to the funding request, the $10 million in fiscal year 2015 would be used for engineering and design as well as the actual dredging work on the six lakes. Planning would start in 2015, with construction to start in 2016.
Construction would take about two years to complete, according to the funding request.
The project will be managed by the East Baton Rouge city-parish government, according to a funding request. Mayor Kip Holden couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday because he was testifying at the state Legislature. William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Holden, said he couldn’t comment because he hadn’t seen the entire plan yet.
Last spring, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation announced plans to hire a consulting team to come up with a plan to restore the Baton Rouge lakes ecology and to help improve recreational opportunities at the lakes.
Originally a cypress swamp, the lakes were formed when the area between City Park and LSU was logged. Over time, the lakes have filled with sediment and are now shallow, leading to problems with algae growth and affecting the lakes’ ability to sustain fish.
Attempts to dredge the lakes in the 1980s met with problems because many of the stumps from the previous logging operation were not removed.
The six lakes — City Park, University, Campus, College, Crest and Erie — also serve as a place for public recreation including fishing, walking and running around the lakes. However, the narrow roads and closeness to vehicle traffic has created safety concerns. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation planning process has been taking in public input on how those conditions can be improved. The planning included a wide range of possibilities for additional recreation such as boating, better fishing and bird watching around the lakes.
A meeting to release a draft plan that outlines what these improvements could be will be released at a public meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 12, at LSU’s Lod Cook Alumni Center, 3838 W. Lakeshore Drive.
The cost of the project will depend on what’s included in the final plan. A 2008 Corps of Engineers study estimated the cost of dredging the lakes at between $18 million and $20 million. In September, John Spain, executive vice president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, said the plan being developed would be more ambitious with additional recreational opportunities. Those extra items could raise the price as high as $40 million, Spain said at the time.
A Baton Rouge Area Foundation representative declined to comment Wednesday on the proposed capital outlay item.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.