Snippets of conversation from the more than 150 people gathered around 20 tables at a ballroom at LSU on Thursday evening sounded like a city planning meeting instead of a group of Baton Rouge residents concerned about the future of Baton Rouge lakes.
“What if we put the dredge material here?”
“This is the only place to put an amphitheater.”
“How about a parking lot here?”
Hunched over large maps of the six Baton Rouge lakes, participants moved around small gamelike pieces marked with various park amenities like “parking lot,” “boat house” and “pedestrian bridge” to plan what they’d like to see for the future of the lakes.
It was another step in the process started by Baton Rouge Area Foundation earlier this year to come up with a master plan to improve the ecology and public use opportunities of the lakes between City Park and LSU.
The six lakes — University, City Park, Campus, College, Crest and Erie — are owned by LSU and the city-parish, and have been filling in since first created by the logging of a cypress swamp in the 1930s.
Although there were attempts in the 1980s to dredge the lakes, the cypress stumps left over from the logging operation made it difficult. In the end, all that could be done was to dredge a channel through one of the larger lakes.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked on a plan as well but ran into a lack of funding, and the work was put on the shelf in 2008 after the agency produced a draft plan.
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation took up the project by announcing earlier this year a proposal to hire planners to gather public comment to help inform a future vision for the lakes.
The major problem with the lakes is that they’re too shallow, which means the water gets warmer in the summer and can’t hold as much oxygen. This warmer lake water and the shallow depth of the lakes — between 2 and 5 feet — create instances when there isn’t enough oxygen to support fish life.
Although much of what will be done with the lakes is still up in the air, one component involves dredging.
On Thursday night, one of the first jobs for the participants was to decide what should be done with the dredged material.
By the end of the evening, the majority of the maps showed use of dredge material around the shoreline of the lake accompanied by wetlands and other marsh vegetation. Some groups put islands here and there, while at least one group filled in Campus Lake, a smaller lake near Stadium Drive, to make it a cypress swamp.
Some connected City Park Lake and University Lake so it would be long enough to have LSU crew boat races, and others wanted more park areas complete with boat launches and even cafés.
While some maps were crowded with wish-list amenities, others kept the plan fairly simple by using the dredge material around parts of the shorelines but not adding much in the way of theaters or nature parks.
A number of the maps recommended using some of the dredge material to fill in Corporation Canal, which runs near the LSU recreation complex, either completely or partially.
D.J. Davis, 50, who works at LSU and has a home in the Garden District, said the people at his table were trying to put their personal opinions aside and work on ideas best for the community as a whole.
“It’s a great resource,” Davis said of the lakes. “And what we’re trying to figure out is how to minimize the cost by using the dredge material on site.”
The material dredged from the bottom of the lakes has to go somewhere and it’s much more expensive to truck the material off-site than to incorporate the dirt into the design of the lakes.
Pramod Achar, 38, who also lives near the lakes, said the process of having a voice in designing the lakes has been interesting.
“I think it’s really good. It’s informative and transparent,” he said.
The next meetings are scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the LSU E.J. Ourso College of Business School Auditorium on Jan. 29 to hear about overall designs from the planners and on April 30 for the presentation of the draft plan.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.