Cheniere  Lake’s  future in jeopardy

LOCALS FISH from the Cheniere Lake spillway, which has cracked and fallen apart while awaiting replacement through a project funded by the state and federal governments. Area officials say the funding to replace the Hwy. 3033 bridge and Cheniere Lake spillway is no longer available, prompting concerns about the lake’s future in light of its already low levels.

Members of the Cheniere Lake Citizens’ Advisory Committee urged local residents last week to reach out to their lawmakers in support of an application for $300,000 in emergency repair funds for the lake’s spillway.

Meanwhile, members of the committee met last week at the Cheniere Lake Park lodge to unveil new boat lane markers and discuss possible security measures because of rampant use of all terrain vehicles, or ATVs, on the drying lake bed.

Without $300,000 in emergency repair funds, the parish-owned spillway at Cheniere Lake is expected to fall apart. Unless the spillway is repaired and the drainage control gates are restored under the state Hwy 3033 bridge, parish officials expect the lake to dry up.

Significant portions of the lake have already dried up, with little to no water preventing people from operating ATVs there. Some committee members said the ATVs are tearing up the drying ground on the lake’s bed.

If the $300,000 in emergency repair funds becomes available, the drainage control gates could be re-installed and allow water to fill up the lake again.

Last month, the Ouachita Parish Police Jury submitted a capital outlay application for $300,000 in emergency repair funds to the state by the Ouachita Parish Police Jury.

Mike Wood, vice chairman of the advisory committee, said the $300,000 in emergency repair funds could be used for temporary repairs to the spillway needed now while waiting for a new, permanent spillway.

“It’s going to be a while before we get a replacement of the spillway,” Wood said. “It normally takes two to three years. It’s still in the designing phase.”

Wood was referring to a long-term project replacing the lake’s spillway. Committee members and police jurors have often voiced the need for a new bridge and spillway, but the costs of such a project have been prohibitive. A permanent replacement of the bridge and spillway could cost up to $9 million.

Though the state Legislature approved the state capital outlay bill, or House Bill 2, in early June, Police Jury officials learned an application for emergency funding could still be made. It is unknown whether such funds could be made available or when.

According to Don Plunk Jr., chairman of the advisory committee, the effort to secure emergency repair funds had momentum until recent storms damaged other communities in northern Louisiana. That was why the request for $300,000 dropped from Priority One to Priority Two in HB 2, referring to the drop between a cash line of credit and a potential cash line of credit.

Plunk said local residents needed to make contact with their elected officials and speak to them about the importance of getting the emergency repair funds.

“We and the community have to get the word out to them to push it back to Priority One,” Plunk said. “I talked with three or four elected officials to get this thing moving forward. I don’t see any reason why they can’t get $300,000 for this project under these circumstances.”

Plunk informed attendees at the committee meeting that the state Department of Transportation and Development, or DOTD, sent the Police Jury a letter on April 8 about the spillway’s condition.

The DOTD letter acknowledged the need for immediate repairs, according to Plunk. On behalf of the state, which owns Hwy 3033, DOTD is responsible for repairs to the bridge and highway.

“They’re offering to help here, but they’re not offering to complete the job all the way through to where we can put the spillway gates back in,” Plunk said.  

The gates cannot be re-installed under the bridge until the spillway’s concrete revetments are repaired. The revetments are cracked and falling apart.

In other business, the advisory committee turned its attention to recent arrests and news reports of drug dealing and trash dumping at the lake’s recreational areas.

Pertaining to security concerns at the lake’s recreational areas, committee members said agents with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries are patrolling the lake area as thoroughly as possible. Citizens are encouraged to submit tips about possible illegal activity to the authorities.

On another front, the advisory committee unveiled 700 markers for the lake’s major boat lanes. The markers were installed to guide boaters through the lake’s main route, banks and islands. The markers were equipped with red, white and green reflective colors.

“We made the markers reflective just in case people are out there in the dark,” said Jamie Hudnall, a member of the advisory committee.

“I cut the signs out and made them just like the original ones from the 40s.”

The advisory committee is expected to release a map of the boat lanes soon.

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