Clean lake may spur Frenier development

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 12, 2010



LAPLACE – After more than 20 years of monitoring water quality and working to clean up Lake Pontchartrain, representatives from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation have begun the daunting task of changing the public’s mindset regarding the waterway, which had once been considered a dangerous lost cause.

“Overcoming 40 years of bad water quality is going to take some time,” foundation educator JoAnn Burke said. “But it will be well worth it if we are able to encourage more residents to enjoy what the lake has to offer.”

Unacceptable levels of pollution throughout the 630-square-mile lake forced state health officials to close Lake Pontchartrain to swimming in the early 1970’s, putting an end to a decades-long history of recreational opportunities in the lake.

In 1989, professors at Tulane University and the University of New Orleans compiled a report called “To Restore Lake Pontchartrain,” which eventually led to the citizen-driven effort to form the Basin Foundation in an effort to revitalize the lake.

Since that time, the foundation has successfully fought to end oil and gas exploration in the lake and also worked to keep wastewater, pesticides and other contaminates from entering the lake.

According to the foundation’s website, by 2000, after years of weekly water quality tests at 10 locations across the north and south shores of the lake, regular monitoring indicated the lake’s bacteria level was dropping, and by 2009, the majority of Lake Pontchartrain was declared safe for swimming and fishing.

Since then, the foundation has worked to educate the public about the lake’s improved water quality and to create and enhance recreational opportunities such as fishing piers and picnic areas.

St. John the Baptist Parish leaders are joining in this education effort. At last month’s Parish Council meeting, the council approved a resolution requesting the Regional Planning Commission conduct a land use assessment of the Frenier Boating Community on the western shore of Lake Pontchartrain near Ruddock. Council Chairman Ronnie Smith said the influx of economic development along the lake could make the area a “cash cow” for the parish.

“This can be something that we can be identified by because not many parishes have many locations left along the lake for development or recreational opportunities,” Smith said at the meeting. “This could really enhance our parish in a positive fashion.”

St. John acting Chief Administrative Officer Buddy Boe said the study is the first step toward an ambitious redevelopment of the lake access point at the end of Peavine Road. The project, dubbed Frenier Marina in reference to the community that once populated that region, would bring the boat launch in the area out into deeper waters and add more green space along the pier.

“The study is similar to our plans for the historic redevelopment locations we are working on,” Boe said. “It will examine what already exists, while determining where there is a need for changes. A declining national economy will certainly factor in to what the parish can and cannot do, but this study will give the parish a sense of what can be done now and what may have to wait.”

Officials from the basin foundation are encouraged by the project’s potential for positive access to the lake but said the plan must take into account the effects on lake habitats in the area.

“The key is limiting the footprint of what needs to be done in the lake for this project,” said Burke. “The smaller the footprint the better because less of the lake gets disturbed.”