Our Views: A process for lakes

In any community there are special places — hugely important as representative of the life and values of the whole. In Baton Rouge, there is a special place for the LSU lakes that reach up to Brooks-City Park and the Interstate 10 overpass.

So the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, looking for a particular project to mark its 50th anniversary, could hardly have picked better than restoration of the lakes.

Yet the nature of the project remains a daunting task.

An environmental study commissioned by BRAF found that five out of the six lakes are too shallow. That extensive dredging would be required to rejuvenate the lakes was not in doubt, but a couple of the smaller ponds are in danger of reverting to swampland in short order. One of the smaller lakes nearest LSU’s campus is only about 2 feet deep.

This has been an issue for decades, and BRAF’s initiative is a good way to refocus public attention on the problem. A gift to the community of $750,000 from BRAF is a strong investment in the process needed to restore the lakes.

It will include an extensive set of studies that include the environmental assessment and planning for improvements around the lake. The good news from the first study is that soil samples showed the material dredged from deepening the lakes would be able to support shoreline improvements, such as new walking or biking paths.

The BRAF gift is generous, but the reality is that no private foundation would be able to fund the cost of an extensive dredging project. Despite efforts by city leaders and Louisiana’s congressional delegation in the past, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been reluctant to take on such an expensive project, in the neighborhood of $20 million or more.

The development of a master plan is vital, and a highly regarded planning team — SWA Group and Jeffrey Carbo Landscape Architects — will lead that phase of the effort. The community can give input and get professional advice about making the most of the assets that are the lakes and their environs.

Yet that is the beginning of the restoration project, not its conclusion. The restoration project will require a considerable public check — whether from federal, state and local funds, or a combination of them.

The lakes began as a Depression-era project, dredged from swampland. Since then, the lakes have repaid that investment manyfold. The BRAF investment should provide a plan for repaying that community debt and ensuring the lakes’ survival for future generations.