Lake Pontchartrain Island Proposal Resurrected

Tue February 01, 2005 - National Edition

NEW ORLEANS (AP) A New Orleans Parish levee board is dusting off a thick but long-dormant report on a grandiose public works project: A proposal to build a 4-mile-long island on Lake Pontchartrain with beaches, camping areas and possibly hotels, restaurants and an amusement park.

The levee board, which was appointed by Gov. Kathleen Blanco, is looking into whether the project can be resurrected, perhaps on a smaller scale.

"Just imagine a 4-mile stretch of sandy beaches that doesn’t directly impact traffic, curtails pollutants in the lake and maybe provides tourist attractions like hotels and museums," said Eugene Green, a levee board commissioner. "That’s something that needs to be explored seriously."

He said private money would have to "play the dominant role."

"Everyone agrees it’s a wonderful project," said Jim Huey, the board’s president. "But the competition for the type of federal funding we looked at in the 1990s has gotten much tougher. Is there private money out there? You never know unless you ask."

The island, as envisioned, would be created a mile offshore just east of Lakefront Airport largely by dredging the lake bottom. It would be accompanied by a network of manufactured wetlands designed to make the area attractive to developers and the public by reducing pollution.

Hatched in the late 1980s and researched extensively over the several years that followed, the project was shelved a decade ago after it became clear that money to pay the $200 million price tag was unavailable.

At Green’s request, officials with Burk-Kleinpeter Inc., the consultants who prepared the earlier studies, will give an overview of the project Tuesday to the board’s Planning, Engineering and Construction Committee.

Since debate on the project began in 1989, about $2.8 million in state and levee board money has been invested in studies and planning. But it’s been seven years since the board spent a dime on the project.

The artificial wetlands aspect of the project went through a number of stages, including an environmental review. It got a favorable reception from the major permitting agencies, including the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers.

At one point, consultants prepared a proposal for a 1-mile first phase of the project that carried a price tag of about $35 million. Plans called for the 4-mile version to be built in stages over a period of years. Designed to cover more than 650 acres eventually, the island would be connected to the mainland by an elevated roadway.

But in 1995, with financing sources still unidentified, an environmental permit was allowed to lapse and the project has since laid dormant since.