AGFC presents lake-draining plan to council

The old Drew County Post Office was packed Tuesday night at the July Monticello City Council meeting. It was the biggest public turnout in a long while.
The reason: Last month, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission met with Monticello Mayor David Anderson to discuss possible draining of Lake Monticello.
Representatives from AGFC were present at Tuesday night’s meeting—and after the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance—the AGFC gave a short slide-show presentation about their intentions for draining the lake.
“Lake Monticello has an overpopulation of undesirable fish like grass carp, yellow bass and white bass,” said Diana Andrews, AGFC District 5 Fisheries Supervisor, who is based in Monticello. “With the total draining of the lake, we would be able to irradiate those undesirable species of fish and that would allow the Florida Black Bass to flourish and become trophy-size bass again.”
On the slides, the AGFC presented to the council and audience a proposed timeline of the draining plans.
“Our plan would be to open the gate and begin the drain in the Fall of 2017,” Andrews said. “During the Summer and Fall of 2018, we would conduct habitat work, lime the lake bed and rotenone and drain inundated ponds. Weather permitting, we would close the gate and begin refilling the lake in February of 2019.”
Liming the lake bed would help the soil because Drew County has notoriously acidic soil, Andrews pointed out. Rotenone is a chemical pesticide used by the AGFC to kill fish by depriving them of oxygen.
“All of these plans are subject to weather,” Andrews said.
The time line to drain, as well as refill, the lake would depend on the amount of rainfall in Drew County at the time.
A representative from AGFC assured the council members and the audience that funding was already in place for draining the lake and to do the proposed renovations.
“We have had success in the past with other Arkansas lakes like Lake Atkins and Lower White Oak Lake,” AGFC Fisheries Chief Chris Racey said.
Alderman Joe Meeks began the discussion after the slide-show presentation was completed.
“This seems like such a drastic first step to me,” Meeks said. “We are getting ready to lower the lake for the first time in its history to make the levee repairs. I have received much communication from people who I represent about how the total draining of the lake doesn’t seem like the best option at first.
“Could we not try something less drastic at first? I know some bow fisherman that could handle the grass carp population.”
At that, the room erupted with laughter.
Alderwoman Claudia Hartness asked the AGFC if using nets to catch the undesirable fish was an option instead of killing all the fish, desirables included.
The AGFC responded by saying that would be difficult. The Commision representatives added that the liming of the lake bed would only be a temporary fix because the crushed limestone they would put at the bottom of the lake would eventually dissolve and the acidic soil would take over again.
Alderwoman Paige Chase asked the AGFC how long residents could expect to experience the benefits of the liming, new vegetation and decrease in undesirable fish population.
“What we like to call the new lake effect would last approximately eight to 10 years,” Andrews answered.
While members in the audience shook their heads, Chase countered with, “Well, then what? Will this have to be done again?”
The AGFC did inform the council that all of these plans would not cost the city of Monticello anything.
“The funding is there in our division budget,” Racey said.
Anderson informed the audience that no vote would be taken on the issue Tuesday and the council members agreed to put the issue on the August meeting’s agenda.
The floor then opened to audience members to voice concerns or ask questions.
Local fisherman Chad Murphy gave a spirited speech about fishing at Lake Monticello.
“Just recently, I have caught an 8.5-pound bass at the lake,” Murphy said. “I don’t see any reason to kill big fish in hopes to one day have big fish. The fish have moved, as they do. The fisherman just need to adjust to the patterns of the fish. A total draining of the lake seems so extreme as a first option. I suggest we put a bounty of the heads of those grass carp and let the local bow fisherman take care of it.”
Local realtor and angler Brandon Lyon followed Murphy by saying Lake Monticello is vital for Drew County’s children.
“I take my 4-year-old daughter out there and we fish and have a good time,” Lyon said. “She doesn’t care if the fish are 12 pounds. She cares that we are out there together.”
Chris Van Duren, a representative for the newly formed bass club that fishes tournaments on Tuesday evenings at the lake said the lake is there for more than just fishing.
“I know we have local businesses that rely on the lake and a lot of people take pictures out there,” Van Duren said.
Steve Henderson from SeaArk Boats was present at the meeting and he said that a total drain of the lake would be detrimental to his business.
“We are growing,” Henderson said. “We test our boats at Lake Monticello at least four days a week.”
Hartness addressed the council about the affects on local businesses if the lake were drained.
“I am not a fisherman, but the thought of potentially losing jobs for local people if the lake were drained is something we have to heavily consider,” Hartness said.
The council members unanimously agreed to revisit this issue at the August city council meeting.

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