Alligator Bayou Update #4 – April 8, 2009


Alligator Bayou Draining

The control structure has been opened. How long it will take before the Bayou becomes un-navigable is not certain and depends on rainfall but it could be in just a few weeks.

We felt it was important to share with you a communication that I received.

Letter from Scott Nesbit to Paul Orr and Paul’s Response

-Scott Nesbit
-Paul Orr
from: Scott Nesbit <>

Paul- I appreciate your intent and concern regarding the Spanish Lake Subbasin, but I am afraid your efforts are seriously misguided.  In regard to Frank, I lived next to Frank for several years in college many years ago.   We were good friends at that time. About 10 – 12 years ago, I reconnected with Frank when he and Jim opened the Tour Business.  It has been a sad and disappointing experience for me to witness.  It has been even harder to see how Frank has twisted the truth and misguided so many well intended people like you and LEAN. I really do not understand what has happened to him because now it just seems to be power (ego) and greed that motivate him.  I want to give a few very significant points to consider.

I have to completely disagree with you Mr. Nesbit. Again, your personal feelings towards Frank Bonifay are irrelevant to the issue at hand.

1) Forget the ecological issue for a minute.  Holding back ANY water in the Spanish Lake Basin by an artificial structure unnaturally floods someone.  Unless mandated by Federal law, that is in itself an illegal action.  On one of LEAN’s recent emails it even says that when the gate is closed at 4 feet, most of the land is above that elevation.  Let look at the word most.  Most is what 51%, 60%, 70%?  LEAN doesn’t know that answer.  For the benefit of discussion, lets say that 70% of the 15,000 acres is not flooded when held back at 4 feet.  Two problems, the first is that under this scenario 30% of the land is flooded.  Land that does not below to FRANK OR JIM.   So, 30% of 15,000 is 4,500 acres.  Gee Paul, I hope it is not your 1,000 acres that is 100% flooded so Frank and Jim can run the tour boat.  Also, keep in mind that before Ascension Parish lowered the structure to 4 feet, FRANK and JIM held it at 5.6 feet, flooding even more land.  Paul, if the structure remains closed, Ascension Parish will be sued by landowners that have damaged land for over 40 years.  If you and LEAN push that effort, it is possible that you and LEAN will also be included in a larger lawsuit from all of the large and small land owners that are impacted.  This is not a threat, and I do not know of anyone that is lawsuit ready.  I am just telling you that if the erroneous emails continue to come from LEAN and YOU (RIVERKEEPERs) there is some exposure.   If FRANK and JIM want to flood the land, let them buy the land.  We do not care what they do with their own property.  However, these adjacent landowners have the right to do with the property what they want and what is legal.  Flooding them prevents this action, not to mention it is illegal.

1. I cannot forget the ecology issue, not for a minute.

I disagree about your use of the word flooding. I do not believe that holding water behind the Alligator Bayou structure equals flooding of the land. If Cypress Flats is not covered with water at around the 4 foot level on the Alligator Bayou Gauge then how can ANY land be flooded as a result of the control structure? I will repeat for clarity. Holding water behind the Alligator Bayou structure DOES NOT automatically mean flooding of the land as a result of the structure.

Also, I thought Ascention Parish has always maintained the control structure? When were Frank and Jim put in control of the structure?

I would also like to point out: La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 33:1236 gives police juries the power “to regulate” dams, etc., the words “recreation centers or other recreation purposes” found in La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 33:4552 also gives police juries the power to construct dams to impound bodies of water for swimming, boating, fishing, etc.. Allen Parish Police Jury v. Merritt, 234 So. 2d 506, 1970 La. App. LEXIS 5238 (La.App. 3 Cir. 1970). So Louisiana law specifically addresses the ability of police juries to impound water for boating and fishing.

2) Holding back water creates a reservoir, which are created largely for drinking water and recreation.  We do not have a drinking water issue here.  The reservoir only increases recreational use.  Environmental groups and landowners all over the country have generally protested the creation of reservoirs just for recreational use.  Check it out for yourself. 

2. This situation is unique. As Deltaic Louisiana is unique. The unnatural changes in hydrology that were caused by containing the Mississippi River within levees, cutting Bayou Manchac off from the Mississippi, etc. have created a situation where an unnatural control structure is required to replicate conditions that are closer to the conditions that originally created the Spanish Lake Basin. Maintaining the water levels higher than the low water levels in Bayou Manchac are required to maintain open water habitat for aquatic creatures as well as maintaining healthy Cypress Tupelo habitat. I would also point out that hunting, fishing, boat recreation and tourism are things that should NOT be disregarded in the least.

3) Holding back water has significantly degraded the ecosystem.  Paul, I do not know how much formal training or education in wetlands ecology you have, but you are terribly misguided thinking that the ecosystem is OK.  Of course, anything above 6-7 feet has not been as damaged as the lower elevations.  In regard to habitat, converting a large bottomland hardwood/cypress swamp to a shallow, permanently flooded ecosystem is a significant degradation in anyone’s book.  You many have fond memories of paddling across Spanish Lake 10years ago, but even then it was degraded.  As nutrients come into the lake in the warmer months, and the water is stagnant because the control structure does not allow flow, algae and submerged aquatic vegetation take up the nitrogen and most of the oxygen somewhat killing the lake.  That is why the only dominant species of fish in the basin are air gulpers or those that can make it through low oxygen situations. 

3. I have never claimed that the area does not require some improvements. Siltation is a big problem but the only answer is dredging. Stagnation and reduced oxygen levels are a result of inadequate depth. 6-8 feet of water is generally recommended to maintain adequate oxygen levels for fish. I don’t know why draining the lake is an acceptable alternative to inadequate water levels?

4) Flood Storage.  Paul, one of the most important functions of an intermittingly flooded bottomland hardwood/cypress swamp is to provide flood storage.  When one fills up the basin unnaturally, it fills up some of the flood storage.  So, actually, holding water back reduces the normal, inherent functional values of these wetlands providing flood storage.  That alone is a wetland degradation. 

4. The Basin can have plenty of flood storage potential and still have a minimum low water level maintained above the low water levels of Bayou Manchac. Also, the flooding in Bayou Manchac is not coming from the Spanish Lake Basin and will not be fixed by the Spanish Lake Basin. The flooding issues in Bayou Manchac need to be figured out on their own. Related to this point, I am curious as to the exact location of the flooded houses that you have shown in relation to flooding in the Basin and on what date were they taken?

5) Wetting and drying is a very important in these ecosystems.  Flooding brings in nutrients, and aeration in the root zone allows for nutrient uptake.  Continued flooding kills all species that require real aeration.   Remember a key point, obligate wetland species do not prefer saturated or flooded conditions, they simply have a mechanism to adjust to low oxygen conditions.

5. Again, Alligator Bayou can be maintained at a level at which no LAND is being flooded but the Bayous and Lake are also not DRY.

6) Frank and Jim operate a for profit business.  No matter what they say they are doing for the kids, they are also having private parties, overnight cabins, special events, etc.  My guess is that they are making out pretty good at the expense of other flooded landowners.  They are not non profits, and even if they were, it is just wrong. 

6. What is wrong with operating a for-profit business? Regardless, what Frank and Jim are doing with their business is irrelevant to whether or not allowing the Basin to drain down to the low water levels of Bayou Manchac is appropriate for the basin or not.

7) I do not believe for a minute that opening the lock kills Frank and Jim’s business.  I can think of all kinds of ways to dress up that waterbottom with aquatic and semiaquatic species of interest.  They are just crying wolf like a couple of winy babies.  If they want to walk away from the good business they created by blaming the action of adjacent landowners, good, I will find a buyer for their business.

7. It amazes me that no one can maintain focus on the real issues here which is the health of the Spanish Lake Basin. You and others feud with Frank Bonifay and Jim Ragland is starting to appear to be your main motivation.

8) This issue of flooding goes back to 1957 when Iberville Parish operated the lock.  I have attached a pdf of a resolution from Ascension Parish to Iberville Parish in 1957, to lower the lock because Ascension Parish residents were being flooded.  Think about it.

8. I see no context for the resolution and it clearly was not implemented, I suspect there was a reason for that. At any rate, it’s 2009, we need to make today’s decisions based on what is occurring today.

In summary, I strongly encourage you to talk to some wetland ecologists that understand the issues.  Dr. Nyman at LSU would be a good one.   He has not financial interest in the basin.  The insistence of LEAN to support Frank’s efforts has seriously undercut their credulity as an environmental action group.  Like it or not, it is also hurting your reputation as a young environmental activist.  You have too much to offer than to hook yourself up to Franks cause.  You will regret that action.  Think hard about what you are doing and get the facts from someone independent and knowledgeable if you don’t believe us. LEAN is acting like the Louisiana Emotional Alert Network.

Scott Nesbit

I have seen much evidence and talked to a number of experts (not to mention my personal experience in the area that amounts to closer to 20 years) to suggest that this plan, to simply allow the Basin to drain down to the low water levels of Bayou Manchac, is inappropriate for the health of the system. No one has done enough on-the-ground research to say what the best regime for the control structure is. I had hoped that the plan that the Corps is developing would take care of these things. I am not sure why the parish has usurped the Corps process. In regard to, not enough on-the-ground research, I would also like to point out that your report of August 2007 and the Shaw report of February 2009 contains NO bathymetery data. How can anyone make a dramatic change in the hydrologic regime of an entire basin when the morphology of the water bottoms is unknown and honestly say the ecology will not be adversely affected??

Paul Orr
Louisiana Environmental Action Network
Lower Mississippi RIVERKEEPER®

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