Oak Harbor buildout heads to phase two

Wetlands development could face obstacles

Saturday July 19, 2003
By Paul Bartels
St. Tammany bureau


With the first phase almost completed, Tammany Holding Corp. is ready to tackle the long-term development of the remaining 1,600 acres in the vast Oak Harbor East coastal plain south of Slidell.

Development of the first phase -- more than 600 acres dominated by the exclusive waterway-laced Lakeshore Estates subdivision along and near Lake Pontchartrain -- has been under way since 1998, after years of environmental controversy.

The new development will encompass two large subdivisions, Lakeshore Village and Lakeshore Estates, north and east of the existing Lakeshore Estates between Interstate 10 and Louisiana 433.

Company president Robert Torres said Friday the developments are essentially the same 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 -- of different types of tony residences, a marina, a shopping center, a hotel, restaurants and other businesses.

Opposition expected

Just as he did after buying the original 2,900-acre tract in 1996, Torres faces potential obstacles to development. Because of the project's controversial history, state and federal regulatory agencies are expected to give plans closer-than-usual scrutiny.

The plans also may reignite opposition from Save Our Wetlands and other environmental groups that have unsuccessfully fought the development in and out of court. The area was once considered public wetlands.

About 650 of the 1,600 acres are what the Army Corps of Engineers calls "jurisdictional wetlands," mainly pasture and nontidal marsh, according to a joint public notice from the state and federal regulatory agencies. About 34.5 acres of habitat essential to red drum and shrimp would be altered or destroyed by the development, according to the corps.

Construction under way

Torres said his company has already invested $40 million in phase one of Lakeshore Estates, almost 600 lots of varying sizes for mixed uses. The average sale price is pushing $200,000, with the lots along the lake fetching the highest prices.

Roughly 150 of all the lots have been sold since 1999 to individuals, homebuilders and other business interests, he said. At least 40 homes have been built or are under construction, and plans are complete for 25 more.

The final investment is estimated to total $1.5 billion to $2 billion for all of Lakeshore Estates-Lakeshore Village, Torres said. "I won't be around by the time it's all finished," he said of the massive buildout.

The proposed Lakeshore Village north of the existing development covers at least 900 acres -- the total is listed apparently incorrectly as 1,406 on one page of the site plan -- and includes single-family homes, townhouses, neighborhood commercial uses and land for such things as schools, churches, government facilities and recreation.

The proposed Lakeshore Estates wraps its acres -- 687 according to the same legend page of the drawings prepared by Krebs, LaSalle, LeMieux -- around the existing subdivision and includes condominiums, inland and waterfront villas, a marina and interstate commercial frontage.

Although the two developments are listed as totaling 2,093 acres, state and federal permits are sought for 1,600 acres, officials said Friday.

Drainage work

The buildout of Lakeshore Estates and Lakeshore Village will involve dredging and fill work on a scale unseen even in fast-growing St. Tammany.

The work for the site, most of which has been surrounded by a levee system and pumped drainage since the late 1920s, includes excavation for retention ponds, lagoons and canals as well as residential and commercial lots, roadways and other infrastructure, utilities and a drainage station, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

The work also will include widening East Diversion Canal, constructing levees and dredging a navigation channel in Lake Pontchartrain. Some 5,155 cubic yards of riprap will serve as a breakwater for the first 200 feet of this 2,400-foot channel in Lake Pontchartrain.

The "spoils" from excavation will be used as fill material to elevate building sites. On-site excavation is expected to yield 1.8 million cubic yards of earth. East Diversion dredging will yield 2.2 million cubic yards of waterbottom material. Dredging for the lake channel will yield 175,000 cubic yards. Another 500,000 cubic yards of fill will be brought onto the site.

The corps and state departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources opened their public comment periods on the project on July 15.

Specific deadlines for comment aren't listed in the July 15 public notice. The standard deadline for the corps is 30 days from the time of the notice. The Natural Resources' time period is 25 days. For Environmental Quality, it's 10 days. The individual agencies may extend the deadline.

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


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