Money was freed up by the State Bond Commission on Thursday, giving the first $2 million to a project to renovate the lakes in Baton Rouge.
The Baton Rouge Lakes Master Plan, which is being vetted at public hearings, will need about $40 million in total. It’ll include dredging the lakes and using that soil to create more land, improving water quality and creating parks.
The $2 million made available Thursday will be used to convert the master plan into the documents and permits needed to start construction, said Lauren Crapanzano Jumonville, project manager for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. The foundation hopes to have those contracts in place by the end of the year.
Jumonville said the construction designs will be specific, down to what plants go where, so the contracts will take 18 to 24 months to complete.
Then, the dredging will begin and could take another couple years. City Park and University lakes would be dredged to about 6 feet deep. The smaller Campus, College, Crest and Erie lakes also would be renovated in the plans.
The dredged materials would be used to create more land between the lakes and roads. Part of the land would be used to create a new family-friendly park on May Street — the narrow road that crosses the lakes connecting Dalrymple Drive and Morning Glory Avenue. Paths with security lighting will be added to put a buffer between cyclists and walkers and vehicles on the streets.
The health of the lakes has declined over the years due to pollutants and sediment brought in by stormwater runoff, which has made the lake shallow in some places. By diverting rainwater into a bayou and filtering some of it through wetlands, the plants can remove nutrients that contribute to poor water quality in the lakes.
The Bond Commission, in its decision Thursday, also put the project a step closer to being able to access a $10 million line of credit. Jumonville said that money, if eventually approved, would be used for the excavation of the lakes and improving the water quality.
In the meantime, promoters would start looking around for the remaining $28 million and hope to raise the funds from a variety of sources, Jumonville said.
State Treasurer John Kennedy suggested Baton Rouge pony up some dollars. “It distresses me that the city is doing nada,” he said.
Republican state Sen. Dan Claitor, whose south Baton Rouge district includes the lakes, said while making the lakes more visitor-friendly is important, he would rank it far behind projects to improve area roads, colleges and hospitals.
He also said he has received dozens of emails and calls from concerned homeowners that new land created from dredging the lake bottom eventually would be opened for commercial use. “Nobody wants a restaurant or a bar across the street, increasing traffic and causing parking and noise problems, not to mention blocking their view of the lake,” he said in an interview after the meeting.
Jumonville said commercial use of the new land was removed from the master plan because of worries expressed by neighbors, with the exception of two possible boat houses — one at the south end of the lakes, which LSU has discussed, and one at the north end, which BREC might consider.
The Jindal administration recommended removing about $74 million in state funds for a variety of projects that Mark Moses, of the state’s Division of Administration, said was set aside for projects that hadn’t raised enough matching funds or had found alternative dollars or had received too little money to significantly impact the project. The Bond Commission rescinded that spending and adding $5 million more, which promoted $79.9 million worth of projects off the waiting list.
The capital outlay waiting lists have about $390 million worth of projects that have been approved but not funded.
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