Corps begins reclosing spillway

Good fishing, crawfishing anticipated as river recedes

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is gradually reclosing 200 bays of the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway, making way for the much anticipated fishing and crawfishing bounty expected with area flooding.

“It’ll probably be populated with fish and crawfish there at first with water in the spillway,” said Dr. Chris Brantley, spillway project manager with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Most people like to catch catfish so there is a lot of blue and some channel catfish, as well as flathead catfish that are fairly large in the next couple of weeks. As the waters warm and recede, the catch should be pretty good this year.”Brantley said eagles have discovered the fishing, too.

“We’ve had bald eagles flying by the office almost every day,” he said. “The river has a lot of fish. That tells you the water quality of the river has improved greatly.”

As in past openings, crawfish improved in the spillway and he expects parents will bring their small children there because it is safe and easily accessible.

Boat launches will likely open immediately after the water recedes for fishing, Brantley said.

Other recreational activities, which were closed as floodwaters rapidly rose in the river, will wait until the Corps can inspect those areas, he said.

“Once it’s totally closed, we can allow recreation there again, which was temporarily closed with the structure opening,” Brantley said. “The public is invited to view the closing of the structure.”

Corps Sgt. Sharon Mock said they closed 10 bays on Monday, which they will continue to do each day until all 210 bays opened to ease flooding are closed, which she said should be done by Feb. 1. The Corps will continue to monitor the levees, with the river still above flood stage, or 16.33 feet, as of Monday.

“Everything has been operating as expected,” Mock said. “We’re very happy that things have worked out as well as it did.”

As the water recedes and the area begins to dry out, Brantley said the Corps of Engineers will assess those areas, determine what’s required to make them accessible again, such as removing trees, and then start reopening bike trails and walking trails, as well as a small remote aircraft field airstrip where visitors can launch planes and fly them.

“Hopefully, it won’t take too long to get back on track,” he said. “But the spillway’s primary role is flood control and that will be its focus until it’s closed again.”

Once the last bay is reclosed, Brantley said the Corps will issue a public notice on the timetable of when the public can resume recreational activities in the spillway.

Brantley said this year’s opening drew a record crowd.“It’s by far the most people we’ve had an opening,” Brantley said of an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 people who braved the cold and a long walk to the spillway to view the opening.

These visitors, along with those anticipated to arrive to fish the spillway, are expected to boost the spillway’s 2016 total visitor count to nearly 400,000 people, a number that could exceed previous visitor counts at the spillway.

Brantley said flooding also displaced wildlife. Hunting is closed in the spillway.

Corps field crews have reported feral hogs and deer grazing on the levees in the morning, which are expected to return to wooded areas as flood waters recede.

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