Gov. John Bel Edwards’ announcement that a coalition of key stakeholders has agreed on the broad outlines of a plan to fund the restoration and enhancement of the six-lake system that runs through City Park and LSU is a major step forward for a project that is long overdue.
At a Nov. 13 press conference, Edwards announced the funding will be cobbled together from multiple sources, including the state, city-parish, BREC and LSU, though details are still uncertain as to how much each will put up to make reality a plan estimated to cost at least $50 million.
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which conceived of the project several years ago and has been spearheading efforts to bring it to fruition, already has put up $1 million to fund a master plan that will guide the dredging and enhancement work.
Though BRAF’s efforts to save the long-neglected and oxygen-starved lakes have been discussed for years, there were several challenges to getting the project off the ground, namely, where would the money come from and how to share the cost?
An algae bloom in City Park Lake earlier this year that has yet to subside created a sense of urgency to address the problem immediately.
Despite that impetus, it will likely be at least a year before any dredging work begins on the lakes. Once it does, dredging will be done in stages so that no lake is entirely drained at one time.
Dredged material from the lake bottoms will then be deposited around the shores of the lakes and landscaped to build up land to create walking and biking paths. Material will also be used to create a bird sanctuary island.
As for the funding, BREC will be the first partner to pony up. Later this month, the BREC board of commissioners is expected to approve allocating $5 million from park system reserves to fund design and engineering work for the project.
The LSU Real Estate and Facilities Foundation will serve as facilitator of the project and will handle all the procurement, including selection of a program manager. Separately, the LSU athletic department has committed to support the project, though Athletic Director Scott Woodward couldn’t say in exactly what capacity.
LSU owns four of the six lakes.
The LSU REF will also make a request for state funds in the 2021 construction budget, which Edwards says the administration will support.
But Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, largely responsible for crafting the funding plan, says the request will likely be just a “placeholder request” and that capital outlay money may not ultimately be needed because several other state funding sources will also be tapped.
For instance, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development funds earmarked for the Interstate 10 widening project will likely be utilized as related work will impact the lakes being dredged.
RESTORE Act funds from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority will also be tapped, as will a portion of block grant funds coming from the federal government to pay for watershed management.
Mayor Sharon Weston Broome has also pledged to use a portion of the estimated $49 million set aside in the MovEBR plan for sidewalks and other enhancements to pay for the new walking and biking trails around the lakes.
Though the political landscape could change between now and next year, officials at the Nov. 13 announcement were confident that momentum at long last is on the side of restoring the city’s prized lakes system. If all goes as planned the project could be completed by 2024.