About 17,000 tons of sand sitting near the Industrial Canal could be destined for the restoration of Pontchartrain Beach if an environmental group can raise the money to move it there.
The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has long sought to reopen the beach area near the end of Elysian Fields Avenue to the public, with plans that envision turning a more than half-mile stretch into a recreation area.
The goal is to reforge connections between local residents and the lake — connections that were lost over the decades the water was off-limits to swimmers because of pollution that has since been cleaned up, thanks in large part to the foundation’s efforts.
“For generations, (Pontchartrain Beach) was the place to go for the summer,” Carlton Dufrechou, chairman of the foundation, said Tuesday in front of giant mounds of sand potentially destined for the beach.
The first step in reopening the beach is restocking it with sand to replenish areas that have lost material over the years. The material now available for the foundation to purchase is enough to cover about a quarter of the original swimming area and push the shoreline out by 50 to 100 feet, said John Lopez, the group’s coastal sustainability program director.
The foundation is hoping to raise $40,000 by April 30 to begin hauling the sand out to the beach, moving a trailerful every 10 minutes. It would take 17 or 18 days of work to move the full amount. Overall, purchasing and moving the sand will cost about $130,000; the foundation has about $90,000 already.
“Everything that happened to bring back Lake Pontchartrain, that was done by folks in this community,” Dufrechou said. “We need the help of the community today to bring back Pontchartrain Beach for the long term.”
The sand relocation is part of a larger $500,000 effort to build amenities along the beach that could take two to four years.
Foundation officials are keeping expectations for this year modest, suggesting the beach might be able to open for a weekend or two this summer. But that could lead to a full-scale opening in the future.
While plans call for improvements to the sandy beach itself, they will not mean the return of the Zephyr and other amusement rides that once had a home in the area.
The sand was originally destined to be used for fracking operations, but it was never put into use and the foundation now has a chance to snatch it up.
As it turns out, the fine sand used for fracking is ideal for beaches and matches the material already on the lakefront, where the original beach was constructed in the early 20th century.
“This is as good as the sand on any beach in Florida,” Dufrechou said.
The foundation has run tests to ensure no harmful chemicals are present in the sand.
Restoring the beach has long been a goal of the foundation, which has sought ways to reconnect New Orleanians with the water in the decade since the lake’s water quality improved enough to get it taken off the Department of Environmental Quality’s list of “impaired waterbodies” — an effort spearheaded by the organization.
The next step is restoring the connection residents had with the lake that was lost when the beach was closed to swimming due to pollution in 1972, said Andrea Calvin, the foundation’s water quality director.
“We still deal with this lingering perception the lake is polluted because my generation didn’t grow up swimming in the lake,” Calvin said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.