DEQ to hold hearing on Oak Harbor



Canal widening has many concerned

Wednesday March 31, 2004
By Paul Bartels
St. Tammany bureau

In a rare move, the state Department of Environmental Quality has scheduled a public hearing to receive comments on the proposed buildout of the vast residential, recreational and commercial Oak Harbor East area south of Slidell.

The hearing, set for April 29 at 6 p.m. in the Slidell Recreation Hall at 333 Erlanger Ave., was prompted by concerns about potential water quality degradation from major construction on a 1,600-acre site that includes 650 acres of wetlands.

Individuals, environmental groups, and several federal and state agencies expressed their concerns in voluminous correspondence in the files of DEQ, the Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Tammany Holding Corp.'s development of the first phase, about 850 acres dominated by the exclusive waterway-laced Lakeshore Estates along and near Lake Pontchartrain, began in 1998 after years of environmental controversy and is virtually complete.

The new development will encompass a second phase of Lakeshore Estates and the new Lakeshore Village north and east of the existing subdivision between Interstate 10 and Louisiana 433.

Company President Robert Torres said the planned unit developments are essentially the ones approved by St. Tammany Parish planners and the Zoning Commission in 2001 as part of Tammany Holding's 25-year master plan.

The existing and future development is intended to provide a virtually self-contained community, one larger than many Louisiana municipalities, that will include tony residences, a marina, a shopping center, a hotel, restaurants and other businesses.

A key environmental concern of the project, and the one upon which DEQ is focusing, is the proposed deepening and widening of East Diversion Canal along lower Louisiana 433 by digging a new channel and connecting it to the existing canal.

Some fear the canal project will increase water pollution, destroy or endanger wildlife and aquatic habitats, and leave residents of Pirate Harbor and areas near the canal more vulnerable to tidal flooding during storms.

Tammany Holding submitted its initial permits application package in September 2002. The package went through a number of revisions before it was posted for written public comment in July. It is still being revised.

The last time DEQ held a public hearing on a controversial project in St. Tammany Parish was in November 2000. That hearing focused on the permits needed to dredge a small waterway, Little Lake, primarily for the benefit of maritime business interests in Mississippi.

The necessary permits, long sought by the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission, eventually were approved.

Additional written comments or requests for notification of the final decision by DEQ on the Tammany Holding application may be submitted to Soumaya Ghosn, Public Participation Group, P.O. Box 4313, Baton Rouge, LA 70821-4313.

Current information about and correspondence pertaining to the water quality certification application may be viewed at the DEQ Public Records Center, Room 127, 602 North 5th St., Baton Rouge, weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. , and at the Slidell library branch at 4002 Pontchartain Blvd.

Inquiries or requests for additional information should be directed to project reviewer Melanie Bauder, DEQ Office of Environmental Services, P.O. Box 4313, Baton Rouge, LA 70821-4313. She can be reached at (225) 219-3020.

As with the first phase, for which a public hearing was never held by any of the three agencies, Tammany Holding will need a coastal use permit from the Department of Natural Resources, water quality certification from DEQ and a wetlands mitigation permit from the corps.

Any of the three agencies essentially has veto power over the others, and none has yet issued a permit.

Tammany Holding says it has met and will meet all applicable federal and state regulations and that neither an environmental impact statement nor a public hearing is needed.

. . . . . . .

Paul Bartels can be reached at
pbartels@timespicayune.com or (985) 645-2854.

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