A wetland specialist is concerned the plans for sloping banks on the proposed revamped Baton Rouge lakes won’t stand the test of time once plants mature and native flora take hold.
“If they build a nice sloping shoreline, it’s not going to look like they want in about a year,” said Andy Nyman, a professor of wetland ecology at LSU who has experience with wetland plants.
Maintenance of a sloped shoreline will be much more intensive and expensive, and in some cases impossible, with the planted wetlands planned, Nyman said.
“If they don’t, the willow trees will come in and the tallow trees will come up,” Nyman said. “I’m a wetland plant person and I’m saying don’t put wetlands around the lake,” Nyman said, acknowledging the irony of his position.
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation and the landscape architect working on the Baton Rouge lakes project say that Nyman has valid concerns, but that the project hasn’t progressed to the point to address those concerns.
Planners maintain the wetlands will help trap sediment and nutrients that have contributed to problems in the lakes for decades and the sloped sides to the lakes in areas will use dredged sediment. The cost of moving this sediment off site is much greater than finding a way to use the sediment in the new lake design.
BRAF and the landscape architect hired to help with the design of the master plan say Nyman’s comments are welcomed, but any overreaching concern is premature.
“Now is the time we need to hear those concepts,” said John Spain, executive vice president of BRAF, calling the conversation Nyman has started helpful to the next steps in the planning process. “I think some of what he says is absolutely true.”
Since construction work is years away, now is the time for people to give input as planning moves forward, Spain said.
“I’d love to have more input on the front end rather than the back end,” Spain said.
Nyman said he is pleased to know his contributions are welcome.
“I’m happy to hear that there is much planning to do because I think that a crucial part of planning is deciding on how to achieve the goals,” Nyman wrote in an email. “But if proponents of the current plan are defining planning as merely engineering and designing the gradual slopes in the master plan, then I believe this plan is doomed to either bankrupt the city and the university — less likely — or accelerate the conversion of the lakes into a thicket — more likely.”
He added that in his experience with wetland restoration, he’s “never seen an idea this impractical proceed to engineering and design.”
If money is found, like the $2 million BRAF received approval for from the Bond Commission on Sept. 17, work on detailed engineering and design will begin. The design will address questions of where certain plants should go and what the contours of the shoreline will be. The engineering phase involves developing a design guide to detail how areas around the lake will be maintained — from the color of street lamps to planting specifications.
Jeffrey Carbo, of Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects, said landscaping details will come in the future.
“He’s implying we’re doing surgery without doing CAT scans and he’s wrong,” Carbo said. “His point is well taken but he’s well off-base that they’re not being considered. We just haven’t gotten there yet.”
Carbo said he’s maintained wetland vegetation on the sloping shoreline in other locations.
“The last thing we want to do is create something that is above and beyond an entity’s ability to maintain them,” Carbo said.
The maintenance of the area will require more skill and effort than just mowing the lake shoreline, he said.
Scott Douglas, a landscape architect with 16 years of experience and a master’s student at University of Illinois, said he and other researchers did case studies on landscaped areas in Chicago. There’s always a concern about seeds being blown in or deposited in a landscaped area by birds, but that’s why some projects work and others start to fail.
“With any landscape, there’s going to be some maintenance involved in keeping it,” he said. “It basically comes down to your maintenance people knowing what are invasive species and pulling them out.”
In the three parks Douglas and others studied, it became clear that maintaining landscaped park areas depends on knowledgeable maintenance groups — regardless of whether they are a municipal crew, volunteers, contractors or a combination of those options.
“It all comes down to knowledge base,” Douglas said.
A gradual slope to the lake shore wouldn’t be a problem, Douglas said, as long as it doesn’t slope off dramatically, which could cause a safety concern for maintenance crews.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.