A revitalized Pontchartrain Beach will bring traffic, visitors and other problems. Do the local residents want that?

Residents aired their concerns over a controversial plan to revive Pontchartrain Beach on the New Orleans lakefront at a tense public hearing on Tuesday, naming worries such as traffic and questioning whether the process had been rushed. The Lakefront Management Authority held a special board meeting to discuss the only bid to lease Pontchartrain Beach, with several residents saying they were worried the plan would disturb their peaceful neighborhood. The authority’s board will vote Thursday whether to accept the proposal and negotiate lease terms for the beach. The Pontchartrain Beach Foundation (PBF) aims to revitalize the beach, which is currently closed to the public. Members of the Lake Oaks Civic Association attended the meeting, listing six reasons why they are hesitant to show support for the project. The group doesn’t want the beach to negatively impact parking, traffic, noise, security or sanitation services in their neighborhood. They were also concerned that the lease process was being rushed. “For the folks in Lake Oaks, their immediate reaction was, ‘Please do not change the status quo,’” said Harold Mathern, a member of the association. “We love our neighborhood. It’s quiet, peaceful. The crime rate is fairly low. That’s our main concern.”

Other residents of the lake front community had other fears.

Other lakefront residents said they were concerned about beach visitors littering near their community. “We are putting together a list of things that we need so that those things can be addressed,” said Phalon Cornist, president of the association. “I want to make sure that the demands we have are met before you guys vote (to give the lease).” Responding to concerns about a rushed process, the board clarified that it would not potentially be handing out a lease on Thursday. PBF representatives at the meeting said they are willing to address residents’ concerns and add provisions to the lease to do so. “We’re going to figure out how to deal with parking. We have ideas about how to deal with security, how to deal with all kinds of things,” PBF design lead Dana Nunez Brown said. “If you really want the beach back, we will work to do what is right for these neighborhoods.”

The plans would mean people will come and not just from the local areas. It is a major renovation meant to bring people there.

The foundation’s plans include restoring the beach and pier. A wetlands reserve would be to its west and a dog park to its east. It would also host a small marina, an area for food trucks and other vendors and possibly some entertainment venues. The costs to renovate the beach are estimated to be $15 million. At an authority committee meeting on July 19, PBF had $46,000 in project funds. It is hoping to be awarded money from the project from the bipartisan infrastructure bill approved by Congress last year. At the same committee meeting last week, concerns about the project were raised after PBF representatives presented their plan. LMA Board Member Pat Meadowcroft asked why the foundation included admission prices in its business plan after saying the beach would be public. The proposal includes admission fees of $10 for adults and $5 for children to enter the beach’s recreational area. PBF co-founder Guy Williams responded that admission prices were needed to cover the costs of security and insurance on the beach. He said admission could be free if the LMA or the state were willing to pay for those necessities.

Once a Whites-only beach, the area has been closed to all for years.

The mile-long stretch on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, behind the University of New Orleans Research and Technology Park, was initially segregated for Whites only until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Lincoln Beach in New Orleans East — which is also being assessed for revival — had been designated for the city’s Black residents. Henry Batt started it in the late 1920s. The park closed in 1983, and its owners sold its rides and attractions. The area is officially closed due to underwater hazards that make swimming perilous. The foundation has outlined a four-year plan to open it up again if it is granted the lease. According to Williams, obtaining the lease quickly is important so the foundation can apply for federal infrastructure funds. The White House has appointed former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to oversee allocation of the funds.

The lake front is a lovely space and one that people use today. Making a recreational space with food and drink will bring people and people mean cars, traffic and litter. That is a fact of life and one that is being grappled with now.

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