Phase 2 of Oak Harbor East gets OK



State, federal offices sign off on permits

Saturday, May 15, 2004
By Paul Bartels
St. Tammany bureau

State and federal regulatory agencies have approved permits clearing the way for the second phase of a massive residential, recreational and commercial development of the Oak Harbor East coastal plain south of Slidell.

The new developments will encompass Lakeshore Village and Lakeshore Estates, on 1,600 acres north and east of the existing subdivision between Interstate 10 and Louisiana 433.

The Army Corps of Engineers and state departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources all signed off on the permits May 7, almost two years after developer Tammany Holding Corp. submitted its initial application for the projects, which could take up to 25 years to complete.

The approvals came barely a week after state officials held a public meeting in Slidell at which the pros and cons of enlarging East Diversion Canal along Louisiana 433 as part of the project were debated.

Among the corps' requirements are that Tammany Holding will have to build at least 6.7 acres of new wetlands, or "intermediate marsh," through special plantings along a stretch of the East Diversion Canal's west bank.

Another 10 acres or more of wetlands restoration area must be developed as part of the project's drainage system to filter stormwater runoff from Lakeshore Village before it's discharged into the canal.

The canal enlargement will create an essentially new channel 12 feet deep and more than 200 feet wide linked to the existing one that runs from below Schneider Canal to Salt Bayou. Tammany Holding says this will improve drainage and sewage disposal.

The work will benefit the same people in Pirates Harbor who oppose the project because they eventually will be able to tie-in to the company's sewer system, company president Bob Torres and attorney Wayne Collier said Friday.

The company also will have to pay Louisiana Nature Conservancy the equivalent of 580 acres of wetlands in cash -- that comes to $2.3 million -- to acquire and maintain pine flatwood savanna at the Money Hill wetlands mitigation bank near Abita Springs.

Torres and his representatives have said repeatedly that every effort has been made to avoid damaging the environment and that all state, federal and local regulations have been followed to develop a high-quality project.

Torres said he expects construction to begin within 90 days.

About 650 of the 1,600 acres are considered wetlands that are mostly pasture and remnant marsh. The new phase of the development will involve dredging more than 4 million cubic yards of on-site fill.

These factors, plus the proposed expansion of the East Diversion Canal and the very size of the entire project have drawn opposition for years from environmentalists and others who fear the work will significantly degrade water quality and destroy breeding grounds for valuable marine life.

But Environmental Quality determined that "adverse environmental impacts have been minimized or avoided as much as possible consistent with the public welfare" and that dredging and placement of fill material won't violate state water-quality standards.

The agency insisted it was up to the corps to decide whether the project warranted a thorough analysis of the potential cumulative effects of the project on the environment. The corps didn't do such a study.

First-phase development -- about 850 acres that include the upscale Lakeshore Estates subdivision for several hundred individual home sites and a huge apartment complex along and near Lake Pontchartrain -- got under way in late 1998.

The existing and future development is designed to create a community -- one larger than many Louisiana municipalities -- of different types of toney residences, a marina, shopping and entertainment centers, a hotel, medical facilities, offices and restaurants.

The new Lakeshore Estates planned unit development, or PUD, envisions 250 single-family waterfront homes and 1,000 multifamily units. The new Lakeshore Village PUD is intended to provide about 5,000 residential units of varying costs.

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

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