Basin Program Meetings Completed

On Monday night, the last of three public meetings soliciting input for the Atchafalaya Basin Program Annual Plan for 2011 took place in Morgan City. Meetings at Plaquemine and Henderson took place last week, giving everyone around the Basin a chance to propose projects for next year.

Prior to these meetings, ABP staffers have been meeting with groups around the Basin to get a head start on project review for the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), which has a short time to review, refine and select projects for recommendation to the Basin Research and Promotion Board(RPB). The Board is responsible for approving the Annual Plan for submission to the Legislature.

Steve Chustz started off with a quick review of the planning process, the results of the 2010 Annual Plan effort, and a schedule for this year.

One of the three major projects in the 2010 Annual Plan was the Basin Resource Inventory and Assessment Tool, funded by the Coastal Planning and Restoration Authority as a way to characterize the Basin water, plant and animal life, as well as the water quality and changing hydrology.

Glenn Constant of US Fish and Wildlife and formerly with the LSU Ag Center, has done a lot of work on the creation of the Assessment Tool and presented some inundation and water flow information at various river stages, taken from the data in the Tool database. These preliminary data present useful observations about the challenges of improving water flow and subsequently, water quality throughout the floodway. The images show that even when there is a substantial amount of water, at the annual average high water mark of about 16 feet, there are many areas with poor water circulation and therefore, poor water quality. One long term goal being identified is getting water circulation at 16 feet more like that present at a seldom seen stage of 21 feet.

Toni Debossier covered the projects that have already been identified and invited everyone to submit a new project or comment on one that has already been proposed. Input can be received until August 24, when the projects are prepared for presentation to the TAG meeting on August 27. Projects received after the deadline will be added to the list for the next round of project evaluation for the next Annual Plan.

Many of the water projects involve openings of streams or cuts in banks for improved water flow; others suggest closures of openings to reduce backwater sediment distribution. Some suggest modifications or additions to currently planned projects.
Access projects were also suggested for boat launch improvements. Most of the discussions at the Plaquemine and Henderson meetings took the form of informal proposals without a lot of details. Apparently, some of the projects previously collected by Toni have more detail but not much of that was presented in the meetings. The TAG will review those projects in more depth. The Morgan City meeting was different in that several projects were formally proposed by the officials, with slide presentations and documentation.

At all of the meetings, most of the comments about the process, the current projects, and the new direction of the Basin Program under Act 606, was positive, however the officials in the Morgan City meeting took the position that the transition from the Master Plan to the Annual Plan process may have occurred too fast to complete the commitments made in earlier years. The current process allocates 25% of new funding to recreational projects but defines boat landing projects as part of the 75% allocated for Water Management and Access, so there is some room to continue to fund the recreation features.

St. Mary Parish President Naquin re-proposed water projects which did not make the cut in the 2010 Plan review. Those included clearing of an area near Charenton at Taylor Point for improved public water intake. Also re-submitted was a proposal for dredging of American Pass. Some critics of the American Pass project contend that sedimentation from American Pass is impacting areas in the lower Basin swamps. St. Mary contends that American Pass has functioned as a natural sedimentation trap and should be treated as one and cleaned out. Mayor Tim Matte of Morgan City and Myron Matherne spoke in support of the American Pass project. All speakers agreed that the American Pass project deserved additional study.

In the general public comment section, Morgan City Mayor Matte and consultant Lou Cutrera suggested that the Basin Program use some of the non-water and access money to move forward on projects previously planned for Lake End Parkway development on land newly-deposited in Lake Palourde from dredge materials taken from the Atchafalaya River under the bridges at Morgan City.

Mayor Matte proposed that the Basin Program look at the elements of the original State Master Plan, including Lake End Park improvements and the AMAC and Lake End Parkway developments, which appeared in the original plan. Mayor Matte showed images of the improvements which have been accomplished and the visitors that use the areas. Lake End Parkway infrastructure was improved by FEMA in conjunction with short-term use for housing for storm victims after Hurricane Katrina. The planned Interpretive Center is still being considered by the City as a part of their plan. Mayor Matte noted that the object of the original Master Plan was intended to introduce visitors to the Basin and that effort should continue.

Parish President Naquin proposed development of the Jesse Fontenot Memorial Boat Launch in the Berwick area.

Charlotte Ratcliff, chairperson of the Lower St. Martin Parish committee showed status of phase 1 of the Stephensville and Belle River Recreation projects and proposed additional investment in those projects. Both Lower St. Martin areas passed local taxes to pay the local portion of the project cost. A representative of Assumption Parish relayed a similar story of local citizens passing a tax to match State funds and feeling that they had a commitment from the State that has not been fulfilled. These areas would like to pursue the next phases of their previously-supported plans.

All in all, i think the meetings went well and input was positive. The Basin Program certainly has its work cut out for the next few months.


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