Laurel Lakes dredging to begin next summer, officials say

Plans are in motion to begin dredging the upper of the two Laurel Lakes by next summer, Prince George's County officials told community members at a meeting Thursday evening.

According to the presentation, attended by about 10 community members and several dredging project leaders, the county's Department of Environmental Resources has finished nearly three quarters of the design plans for the dredging project and expects to have fully completed designs and all the necessary permits by March of next year.

Bidding for contractors will open in the spring and dredging should be able to start by mid-July 2014, officials said. Once dredging begins, construction work will last between three and six months.

County officials hope the planned project will clean up the lake and keep it clear for years to come. It's likely that sediment will find its way back, they said, but they hoped to slow the advance.

"You will always have some sort of sediment because a lot of storm drains [running into the lakes] have sediment," said project manager Joanna Smith. "We hope to reduce it."

Officials said the goal was to decrease the frequency of dredging, so that it would take more than a decade before the process was again necessary.

This particular dredging project has been a long time in the making. The last time the smaller of the two Laurel Lakes, located near Oxford Street, was cleaned out was more than a decade ago, in 1996.

Since then, the once-clear lake has become overgrown with trees, cattails and other plants, obscuring a view of the water that some residents said they had hoped to enjoy every day when they first moved to the neighborhood.

Both the upper and lower lakes were dug in 1986 when housing was first built in the area to capture water runoff after storms. Over time, due to eroding stream banks, sediment-filled pipes and inadequate buffering, the upper lake, which was positioned to act as a forebay that would trap dirt and debris before it could head downstream, has acquired a thick layer of muck and shrubbery.

The county plans to excavate about 15,000 cubic yards of sediment from the lake, more than twice as much as was removed 17 years ago.

According to Smith, the project will cost about $1.5 million, $200,000 of which will go to planning and design. The rest will be spent on dredging operations, which will happen in two phases – first, at the south bank and then at the north.

Workers will begin by draining the lake and establishing access and staging areas. Then, sediment will be removed and disposed of offsite. At the end of the project, crews will restabilize disturbed slope areas, rebuild an asphalt path near the lake and landscape the area.

Laurel Lakes residents Lester Louis and Tanya Hill, who have both lived on the south side of the lake for more than 20 years, said they hoped the new landscaping would allow for a better view of the water.

"We used to be able to see the whole lake," Louis said. When he moved in, "we thought we were getting waterfront property."

Smith said the project team would try to get the community a clearer view.

"We're talking about shrubs or at least some small trees, a little separated, so you have a view," she told Hill and Louis.

Resident Donald Willford said he'd been waiting for a dredging project for a long time and hoped it was done right. In 1996, he said, poor dredging practices resulted in sediment refilling the lake within a month.

"We've suffered through this thing and we don't want to see a repeat," he said.

Smith and Ward 1 City Council member Ed Ricks, who attended the meeting, pledged to keep the process open to the public. Slides from the presentation will be posted on the county’s website next week, and there will be a public hearing on the project sometime next spring.

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