NEW ROADS, LA — State Rep. Major Thibaut, D-Oscar, and Department of Natural Resources Secretary Stephen Chustz recently told members of the False River Civic Association that important restoration work on False River should get underway soon thanks to additional funding from the State Legislature, as well as anticipated grants from the local corporate office of NRG Energy.
Thibaut said the state allocated an extra $1 million – added to $500,000 that was awarded last year – during the 2013 Legislative Session. He said another $1.2 million remains in Priority 5 state funding, which he hopes will be “moved up” on the state’s project list in next year’s session.
At the same time, local NRG Energy officials are finalizing their efforts to donate a significant sum to the restoration effort, Thibaut said, noting that company officials plan to announce the contribution once all legal and accounting groundwork is complete.
“This community has waited patiently for years for something to be done to correct the problems that have plagued False River for decades. The good news is that we are seeing progress thanks to the funding and our organized efforts at the state and local levels,” Thibaut said to association members gathered at June 27 meeting at the Cottonport Civic Center in New Roads.
Thibaut said he and State Sen. Rick Ward, D-Livonia, lobbied fellow legislators for the funding, and they are working closely with state experts in the departments of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Fisheries, Environmental Quality, and Health and Hospitals, as well as local residents and fishermen, members of the Pointe Coupee Police Jury, and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to establish a framework to review issues, oversee restoration work, and receive private donations. Representatives from each of these areas sit on the False River Watershed Council, which serves as an advisory board and clearing house for the restoration effort.
Thibaut said the False River Watershed Council presented a comprehensive report to state legislators earlier this spring, detailing the various issues and potential remedies of the restoration effort. The report included information on silt infiltration from local canals, available shell beds in the lake, target areas for dredging to lessen turbidity and improve the lake bed, options for constructing islands and terraces to enhance aquatic habitat, and the need to drawdown the lake’s water level to improve the lake bed and more affordably dredge and remove debris.
DNR Secretary Chustz said restoration work is planned to begin on the south end of False River, and he anticipates a draw down on the lake to take place next fall in conjunction with that work, confined to a five-month period between September and February so water levels could be restored for spring fish spawning. He said the drawdown would most likely be between 2 and 3 feet, which is in the range of the lake’s most recent, naturally occurring low level, according to local reports and data on the lake. The drawdown would reduce the cost of restoration work that is planned.
“Most of the questions we receive about the restoration efforts are pertaining to the drawdown,” Chustz said. “It’s important to note that the drawdown would be temporary, and it will offer local residents a great opportunity to make repairs to their bulk heads and piers and to clear out unwanted debris.”
“At the same time, the lake bed’s increased exposure to sunlight is expected to oxidize and compact sediment, and thereby reduce turbidity which will promote vegetative growth, improving the quality and habitat of the lake and have a positive long-term impact,” he said.
Thibaut said many components of the proposed restoration projects are included in the U.S. Corps of Engineers’ recommendations. However, he said the state and local work will be done at a significantly lesser cost.
“And the work is going to get done,” he said. “We have only experienced delays and increased costs with U.S. Corps efforts.”
“I want to thank Secretary Chustz for prioritizing this project and working with other state departments to get us where we are. We have some very knowledgeable men and women who are committing their time and resources to see this effort get underway,” Thibaut said.