Game and Fish discuss Lake Poinsett renovation

Friday, May 5, 2017

Concerned residents met with Arkansas Game and Fish Commission representatives during a public meeting Monday to discuss AGFC's plan to renovate Lake Poinsett. A major point of contention among many residents is that the plan involves completely draining the lake.

Lake Poinsett was created in 1961 by damming Distress Creek and has been been facing erosion for the past several years. Brett Timmons, Northeast Arkansas District Fishery Supervisor, told those gathered that all reservoirs have a life cycle, and that aging process is affected by a number of things, such as erosion in Lake Poinsett's case. Timmons said other major problems at Lake Poinsett include the water control structure gates being non-operational, the evacuation pipe being compromised, and last year there was a leak where the evacuation pipe enters the water control structure--which Timmons said was fixed but was the first of issues down the road with the structure. The biggest problem at Lake Poinsett, Timmons said, was shoreline erosion. He said there are 12,000 linear feet of erosion, with the worst parts located on the east side of the lake. "There's about six miles of shoreline total, so that means one-third of it is being eroded away," Timmons said.

Phase one of the renovation was a survey conducted last summer to see how much of the shoreline has been lost and is need of repair and assessing the integrity of the dam and water control structure. Phase two will involve replacing the water control structure, repairing the evacuation pipe at the dam, repairing the erosion, and enhancing the fish population. The plan is to drain the lake on July 10, conduct the planning stage through the end of 2017, execute the renovation plans in 2018, and restock the lake in 2019-2020. Catfish and bait fish would be stocked in 2019--and Timmons said the catfish would be immediately fishable--and in 2020 they would stock the predator fish. Timmons called this a conservative timeline that could change once the engineers and contractors start looking at the lake. As of right now, they do not yet have contracts in place.

Timmons said AGFC will be working with several state entities on the project, including the Army Corps of Engineers, who will do a hydrology study; U.S. Geological Survey, who will do an investigation of the dam; and the Arkansas Natrual Resources Commission, who will do an emergency action plan and studies on the dam once the work on the evacuation pipe is complete.

During the questions portion of the meeting, the complete drainage of the lake was a major concern, with many asking if it was not possible to complete the project without fully draining the lake. Timmons said that originally, his idea had been to only drain the lake ten feet to complete the erosion repair. But there is a discrepancy between how much water the lake was originally designed to hold and how much water is it estimated to be holding now. Timmons said the Corps of Engineers needs the lake to be fully drained so they can do a study of the topography to figure out how much water the lake is actually holding. The study will be done using aerial LIDAR, which uses light pulses to measure distances. Once they know the amount of the lake's water body, they can figure how best to maintain the lake. "The engineers are telling us they need to see the lake drained to do an adequate study," Timmons said.

At one point during the questions, Harrisburg Mayor Randy Mills asked how the Lake Poinsett Association felt about the project, and several spoke up saying the work needs to be done, that they have been trying to get the erosion fixed for the last 10-15 years, and that they want the lake to last another 50 years.

Timmons said they are working on removing the daily creel limits by May 22 and that once the draining starts it should take three to four months to completely drain the lake. Chris Racey, Chief of Fisheries Division with AGFC, promised several times that they would see it through to the end and not abandon it partway through. "We believe the lake needs this project," Racey said. "We will not walk away. We will finish the project."

AGFC plans to have another public meeting at 6 p.m. on June 1, and Timmons said they are considering moving the meeting to their Jonesboro office instead of Shiloh Baptist Church in the hope that more can attend who couldn't make Monday's meeting.

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