Special report: State of Vernon Lake repairs two years after Harvey

VERNON PARISH, La. (KALB) - Vernon Parish resident Kimberly Kezerle has lived on Vernon Lake for eight years.

Vernon Lake in August, shortly after repairs resumed in July. | Photo Source: KALB

“It was so nice to be able to come down and listen to the birds and the ducks around in the lake and enjoy the peacefulness of it,” said Kezerle.

Now another summer has passed without water in Vernon Lake for residents like Kezerle. The lake had to be drawn down for repairs following tropical storm Harvey in 2016.

“It’s just heartbreaking. This is our retirement home and this is where we plan on raising our grandchildren.”

Jason Nolde, chairman of the Vernon Parish Game and Fish Commission explained that part of the lake’s structure “gave no indication that it was going to, but definitely when you're looking at probably a third of the embankment has moved it was definitely a concern and worth watching.”

“We go from having normal water level to overnight at our back door and it was pretty scary,” recalled Kezerle.

Lake front property owners continue paying for a body of water that isn't there.

“We have to bush hog everything to try to keep some of the rodents away...that has been a nightmare. We have been infested with snakes, rats, just all kinds of critters coming around.”

Kezerle and other residents of the area saw their flood insurance bill go up after Harvey despite the lake draw down.

“It has definitely raised our rates and that is also...not something that we were expecting to come across.”

Nolde explained that crews were working against Mother Nature and couldn’t start groundwork until the water level was at least 225.

“The gate has been open for two solid years and it's got to get down just to have that buffer if we do get a big rain event, we have to get that lake down low enough that we have room to work. If it does start to come up, we have time to work.”

Construction began in July following the threat of hurricane Barry. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development said weather permitting, repairs could be complete in two and a half months.

Although restoring fishing and recreation at Vernon Lake is a top priority, Nolde said maintaining safe working conditions will keep progress on track.

“When they start they've got to keep going to get that done so to get the lake down is really vital.”

In the meantime, residents look forward to mornings taking in the view from their back porch and sunny days spent out on the lake again.
“We love the lake, we love being next to the water and all that it entails,” said Kezerle. “We just look to get back to life again and enjoying it.”

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