Since 2016, when flash floods washed out the bridge and spillway that formed Cheniere Lake in West Monroe, the future of the popular fishing area has been in doubt. But that changed recently when the Ouachita Parish Police Jury received a pledge of up to $4 million in state funds to construct a new spillway and refill the lake.
“I heard what I needed to hear, that we would have our Cheniere Lake and we could continue draining it to mimic natural water fluctuation,” said Mike Wood, vice chairman of the Cheniere Lake Citizens’ Advisory Committee. “Without the spillway, there is no Cheniere Lake. It could be known as the place formerly known as Cheniere Lake.”
The state funding will allow for a new spillway and drainage-control structure, according to information shared at a January meeting of the Police Jury by consulting engineer Kevin Crosby. The announcement followed a meeting with parish officials and Shawn Wilson, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and Sen. Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro) in January.
When the lake is full, it covers approximately 3,600 acres and is the largest lake in Ouachita Parish. It was formed in 1946. The cypress and tupelo gum brake is hard to navigate and has very little open water, but it provides great bream, crappie and bass fishing. Public boat ramps and a park area provide easy access.
In 2016, the flooding damage at Cheniere Lake was severe, with the collapse of the spillway causing the lake to drain into the Ouachita River. The roadway had to be closed for a year for repairs, and the area has never recovered. The lake remains basically empty.
While the formal agreement and funding has not been officially signed, local leaders are confident that this first good news for the lake in nearly three years will provide recreation on the area for the next generation. The proposed design entails building new gates downstream from the current gates as well as an earthen spillway, or dam, with a fixed concrete weir. According to early cost estimates, this approach will cost less than half as much as rebuilding the former spillway structure.
Police Jury Vice President Jack Clampit said that although it took three years to put the plan together and get approval, it is a good solution that will hold Cheniere Lake for another 50 of 60 years.