Several residents living along False River say they believe a drawdown of False River that was intended to help restore the ailing oxbow lake is damaging their property, and they plan to air their concerns at a meeting this month with state and local officials.
The False River Civic Association, a coalition of landowners living along the lake’s 22-mile shoreline, wants officials to address concerns its members have about failures over the past three weeks to bulkheads and the foundations on lakefront properties.
Bulkheads, also referred to as seawalls, are man-made barriers that prevent erosion for waterfront properties. They allow property owners more land to erect things like boat launches on the water’s edge.
The civic association group sent a letter to the Pointe Coupee Police Jury asking for a meeting on Jan. 28 to address its concerns. It also has asked Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads; Stephen Chustz, assistant secretary of the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Coastal Management; and other officials connected to False River’s restoration efforts to attend.
Patricia Schnur, the association’s president, said FRCA members and nonmembers approached her about setting up the meeting with officials because they believe the man-induced drawdown that took the lake’s water level from 16.5 feet to approximately 13.5 feet until March 1 could be the cause of the problems they’ve been experiencing.
“We (FRCA) have not undertaken any investigations of the cases claimed, and we do not have any information about the total number of failures,” Schnur said in an email. “We were asked to try and set up a joint meeting for property owners, Police Jury members and Restoration Project leadership to explore the extent of apparent problems, causes and possible mitigation measures.”
State and local officials say they aren’t convinced lowering the lake’s water level is the source of the problems but are committed to investigating the issues on a case-by-case basis.
“Everyone is different,” Chustz said. “At some areas of the lake, there is still water up against the shoreline still, while in other areas, there’s 20 feet of land where there used to be water. The project engineer has been made aware of the problems, and he’s going to investigate things. Anything is possible.”
The 3-foot drawdown of False River’s water level began in September after the state authorized the parish to lower the lake’s water level for six months as part of a multifaceted rehabilitation effort designed to promote the growth of vegetation that stifles the buildup of thick sediment along the lake bed.
False River’s decline over the past two decades mostly has been attributed to the heavy silt buildup at the bottom of the lake, which state officials have said impeded vegetation growth that helps form fish-spawning habitats.
The drawdown also was sold as a cost-cutting measure to another restoration project underway in the south end of the lake. That project involves construction of a 16.5-acre containment dike aimed at addressing the lake’s siltation issues.
The problems arising now for residents living along the lake echo back to the association’s earlier objection to past drawdown proposals from state officials.
The False River Civic Association was critical of a drawdown when a proposal was presented to lower the lake’s water level by as much as 6 feet several years ago because members thought it would cause failures to their property seawalls. But the group warmed up to the recent drawdown because it matched the “natural” reduction of the lake’s water level during a drought in 2000.
But in light of what property owners are experiencing now, Schnur said the association believes state officials could have opted for an alternative method to building the containment dike that wouldn’t have required a drawdown.
“We preferred as an alternative a containment using sheet piling,” she said. “While the cost of the containment itself would be marginally higher, the overall project cost would likely be lower.”
Police Juror Kyle Olinde said he received about 10 complaints from residents experiencing bulkhead failures recently.
Olinde, who lives along the lake and also serves on the False River Watershed Council, said he also experienced problems with the seawall on his property but wasn’t so quick to blame it on the drawdown.
“I had some faulty work done on mine in 2005 that I had to get corrected,” he said. “I wasn’t going to sit around and wait to find out who’s at fault.”
Olinde, who plans to attend the FRCA meeting, believes some of the issues residents are having could be due to poor workmanship they were unaware of before the lake drawdown. But he added he’s not ready to rule out the possibility that the drawdown might be the cause.
“Some say False River is unique. There have been drawdowns done on other lakes and no one had this problem,” he said. “There are many seawalls still standing strong out there today.”
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