State and local leaders announced Wednesday they had “cobbled together” nearly $50 million in funds to revitalize the six long-neglected lakes near LSU and City Park.
The funding should kickstart a project that’s been stalled for nearly a decade as officials, without success, searched for money and worked to align the interests of myriad stakeholders.
A neon green hue has overtaken City Park Lake — and it isn't going away anytime soon.
“We believe we have a pretty good idea of a majority of the sources of funding,” said John Spain, executive vice president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. “We know that there a lot of pots of money, probably seven or eight.”
The restoration will be spearheaded by LSU’s Real Estate and Facilities Foundation and follow recommendations laid out in a 2016 master plan commissioned by BRAF that focuses on improving the lake’s water quality and revamping its recreational uses.
Details on the exact levels of funding from various agencies remains vague, however, support is expected to come from the East Baton Rouge City-Parish, BREC, the LSU athletic department and Louisiana’s Department of Transportation and Development. Interstate 10 crosses City Park Lake.
The project will also rely on RESTORE Act funds from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, as well as dollars from Community Funding Block Grants.
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The lake system is owned and operated by three entities. City Park Lake and Lake Erie, a small body of water to its east, are owned by the city-parish and maintained by BREC. The other four lakes – Campus, College, Crest and University – are owned by LSU. All will be connected under the project.
A working group is expected to begin meeting next week to discuss selecting a project advisor and determining the level of funds needed upfront for preliminary engineering and planning contracts.
Much of the lake system’s issues with algae overgrowth, sedimentation buildup and fish kills can be blamed on its depth, or lack thereof. At approximately 3.5 feet deep on average, the lakes are too shallow. That allows the water to get too warm and cause vegetation to grow excessively.
Spain said dredging should begin by the end of 2020.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said the city-parish will dedicate a portion of funds from its nearly $1 billion MovEBR infrastructure plan to build biking and walking paths once dredging is complete.
BREC’s Superintendent Corey Wilson said he expects the park system to dedicate around $5 million in funding to support the revitalization. He cautioned, however, that he still must secure approval from his board of commissioners.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is up for re-election Saturday, said he would support a $50 million capital outlays request from LSU in next year’s budget, but stressed that the funds would only be used to supplement whatever isn’t raised by the project’s partners.
“As much of that that needs to be borne by capital outlay will be, however, the overwhelming majority of the costs will be borne by the various partners,” Edwards said.
The Baton Rouge lakes were created in an area that, before the 1930s, had been known as the Old Perkins Swamp. According to the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, created in 2006 to promote the Atchafalaya region, notes the lake area “strives” to return to swampland.