Dig Baton Rouge

Pooling Creativity

By Quinn Welsch
@quinnwelsch

As the LSU Lakes slowly reside into a swamp-like state, community members and planners continued the discussion on the lakes’ future in the second meeting of its kind on LSU’s campus on Thursday, Dec. 11.

The goal of the project is to restore the lakes’ environmental health by deepening them. Though the method of dredging is still uncertain, the firm hired for the project, SWA Group, may be a little closer to finding the right answer after asking the public to take a very import role in the process: planning.

Thursday’s meeting focused less on speaker presentations and more on community workshops. Participants worked with one another at the public meeting using a large map of the lakes and a couple hundred markers that represented their different components, almost resembling a Monopoly or Risk-esque board game.

The objective of this game was to strategically place as many of the “dredge” markers throughout the lake, as opposed to moving them outside of the city.

Planners estimate there is approximately 815,000 cubic yards of sediment – more than enough to fill Tiger Stadium – that needs to be dredged from the lakebeds. Shipping the material outside of the city could cost tens of millions of dollars, according to BatonRougeLakes.org. Instead, planners say the most cost effective method is to use the dredged sediment to build into the lakes current environmental structure by creating small islands or peninsulas, which would increase aquatic biodiversity.

“How are we qualified to make decisions on these kinds of things?” one participant asked his peers. Maybe they’re not qualified, but SWA Group has relied heavily on public input in both of its meetings on the future of the lakes so far.

Much of the public’s input has revolved around recreational activities – like walking and jogging – and maintaining a healthy ecosystem within the city. This was reflected in the various maps created by each group, which included additional markers that represented crosswalks, pedestrian bridges, wetlands, cypress trees and gardens, to name a few.

Most groups opted to move the dredge to the edges of University Lake (the biggest of the six lakes) and in some cases fill the LSU bird sanctuary on the west side with dredged sediment.

Additional markers allowed groups to include services such as boat launches, vehicle bridges, public art spaces, cafés and even beer gardens.

Kinder Baumgardner, the president of SWA Group, said more of these services were brought into the discussion this time around. Still, Baumgardner made clear at the November meeting that these services are secondary to the actual goal of restoring the lakes, which have been receding into their natural swamp-like state since their contruction in the 20s and 30s and are now too shallow for long-term sustenance.

The shallowness of the lakes causes excessive heat, which can cause algal blooms and fish kills, said Jennifer Dowdell, a landscape designer working with SWA.

“In a lot of urban areas, these natural systems have a lot of pressure put on them by the surrounding development,” Dowdell said. “It’s a real delicate balance of how we help promote the health of the lakes by understanding how to better filter the water that’s coming into them.”

Those types of systems might include natural filters around the lakes that could absorb sediment run-off. Ideally, these systems would be engineered so that they are as self-sustaining and adaptive as possible, Dowdell said.

“These natural systems are never static systems. They’re dynamic, and that’s exciting, but sometimes challenging,” Dowdell said. “We like to have our property stay how we enjoy it, but maybe there is also this mystery of how it could evolve and how that could create all new experiences or new functions.”

One of the main goals for the lake restoration today is ensuring that similar meetings and projects don’t reoccur in another 30 years.

The next LSU Lakes meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Jan. 29 at LSU’s E.J. Ourso College of Business School Auditorium.

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