Bonifay explains opposition to Bluff Swamp water levels

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

I am writing to clear up misinformation about the flooding in the Spanish Lake Basin.

In 1995, when my partner and I, along with our community, saved Bluff Swamp from clearcutting by purchasing 901 acres and preserving them in a national non-profit organization, I signed a mitigation agreement with the EPA to work with Ascension Parish as a means of restoring hydrology of Bluff Swamp and the Spanish Lake basin.

This agreement was designed to relieve Ascension Parish of millions of dollars of wetland violations. The agreement supports the hydrologic enhancement plan to dredge Alligator Bayou all the way to First Bayou, to the south of Spanish Lake, to a depth of six to eight feet in order to deepen the bayou and clear it of debris so that floodwaters could be more quickly drained out of the basin.

The mitigation agreement also supports the plan to install at the confluence of Alligator Bayou and Bayou Manchac considerably large er locks that could move water faster and more efficiently. The current lock can be described as a straw draining a swimming pool – and the slower that Manchac drains, the slower Alligator Bayou drains. In the past it has taken almost a month for flood water levels in Alligator Bayou to drop one foot. Our basin plan also proposes the enhancement of Cypress Flats to encourage a rookery forthe multiple species of migratory and resident birds known to inhabit the area.

A few landowners have claimed that consistently high water levels in the basin are killing their trees and cause their property to flood. The level of the land that is in question is more than a foot above the bayou level.

It is in my interest, as the owner of Alligator Bayou Tours, the steward of Bluff Swamp Wildlife Refuge and Botanical Gardens, Inc., and citizen landowner concerned about my own property and that of my neighbors, to keep the water at a level that promotes a healthy ecosystem. Ascension Parish could dredge Alligator Bayou and Frog Bayou and install larger locks and flooding in the basin could be lessened.

This letter is to clarify that it is not my desire or intention to keep water levels high; on the contrary, I am concerned about everyone’s property. On the other hand, draining Alligator Bayou is not a sensible solution to these flooding problems. For one thing, the basin would only fill up again with the next season of storms. For another, drainage would kill the fish and wildlife in the bayou, as well as a beautiful natural area used by citizens for recreation and by my business as a means of inspiring tourists and educating 30,000 school children each year about the importance of swamp ecology.

Solving our long-standing problems with flooding would not be accomplished by draining Alligator Bayou; it is about dredging and installing larger locks.  The removal of floodwaters more quickly is the crux of the issue.

This will answer everyone’s needs.

I hope the citizens of the tri-parish area – Ascension, East Baton Rouge and Iberville – will understand that we, as citizen conservationists, business owners and landowner/stewards of 1,600 acres of wetlands have been working for the past 15 years on a solution that will protect and serve everyone.A heartfelt thank you to all of our friends, supporters and believers who have worked so hard to see our Louisiana treasure preserved.  Your phone calls, emails and letters are an inspiration to all of us.

Frank Bonifay