Ideas to turn the ailing LSU lakes into a showcase for Baton Rouge range from dredging the sediment that’s been choking the water bodies to building boardwalks and parks and restricting traffic.
But first, the public has to weigh in.
And that was the purpose of an exercise Thursday night at the Lod Cook Alumni Center at LSU, where hundreds of residents pored over maps of potential traffic changes, ecological features and where dredge material from the lakes could be placed.
There was no shortage of passion — a prediction made by John Spain, executive vice president with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, at the beginning of the session.
“Rest assured, you’ll find things you’ll really like and some of you will find things you don’t care for,” Spain said before sending the several hundred participants to smaller groups to pick apart this first proposal.
Some wanted to know what would be in front of their house and if their view of the lakes would be obstructed; some absolutely hated certain proposals, like one-way traffic on Lakeshore Drive; and some liked the idea of boardwalks, while others thought it was too much.
Consultants hired by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation will now sift through the wide-ranging opinions to try to find consensus on items that could be included in a second draft to be released later this year.
Thursday’s meeting was the latest step in a process the foundation started last year to address environmental problems in the six lakes, which are located between City Park and LSU.
Dredged from a cypress swamp in the 1930s, the lakes have been filling in with sediment, making them shallower. A major improvement might involve dredging the sediment and using it to build up lake shorelines, creating small pockets of cypress swamp and areas of wetlands. The wetlands would not only provide habitat but also would help clean water draining into the lakes of fertilizers, oil and other pollution, said Kinder Baumgardner, a landscape architect with SWA Group.
Recreational improvements could involve pedestrian paths, park areas and boating opportunities.
“I’m so excited,” said Holly Laperouse, 35, who is building a house on the lake. “I have three little boys. I’m excited about the exercise and making it healthy.”
Right now, she said, with cars and pedestrians sharing the same road around the lakes, it’s not safe to go out biking with her children.
One idea posed Thursday suggests a separated path for pedestrians and even a third lane for bicycles.
Holland Pitre, 68, who lives along the lake and frequently runs and rides his bike around the lakes, said he would like a crosswalk across Stanford Avenue near Milford Wampold Memorial Park.
Others had concerns about the safety of using sediment to build additional land around the lakes. Some want the dredged sediment to be hauled away, even though that’s a more expensive option, and many objected to the suggestion of converting Stanford Avenue into a three-lane road instead of the current four lanes.
At her table, Annette Douthat, 57, who lives along the lakes, said the plan will need some tweaking. Some of the concerns aired at her table during the two-hour meeting involved the traffic flow proposals, an expansion of Milford Wampold Memorial Park that could bring in more traffic congestion, and a fear that increased boat activity could disturb the bird life around the lakes.
On the plus side, participants seemed happy with the proposal for a family-oriented park on the north side of the lakes and for proposals to conduct the dredging in stages rather than all at once.
The next meeting on the proposals will be hosted in April with a final report expected sometime this summer.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.