Pointe-a-la-Hache ferry landing temporary repairs underwayFeb 5th, 2013 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: news
After the Parish President Billy Nungesser closed the Pointe-a-la-Hache ferry landing per a State Department of Transportation order, Eastbank residents and the council
have been outraged at the sudden move. District 1 Representative P.V. Griffin says
that the 7-day bid process for a construction firm is wrapping up and once the firm
is selected, he anticipates the landing to be fully operational by the third week in February.
Now that the temporary solution is being worked out, parish government must
agree on a more long-term plan.
What exactly needs to be fixed
In a letter to Nungesser, John Guidry, Bridge Maintenance Engineer for DODT said that following his routine inspection of the landing, it “was found to have critical
deficiencies that require immediate action… I am ordering the immediate closure
of the above noted river crossing structure until corrective action is taken.”
In a phone interview, Guidry explained that once the critical deficiencies were fixed
the parish should consider a long-term option if the landing is going to continue regular service.
“The apron [support beam] for the landing was completely corroded and rotten, so
the landing was ordered to be shut down,” Guidry in a phone interview. “But its a parish structure—if they wanted to replace that one item, that would bring them out
of that critical stage and allow them to reopen, but the landing itself is in very poor
Last week, Nungesser announced that contracting company hired after Hurricane
Isaac, GEC Engineering, has ordered the support beam needed and was going
out for a 7-day bid process for construction contractor. Nungesser estimated that the
landing would be open for light traffic in about two weeks.
But the parish and its residents now have to decide the future of the landing in the
parish. The administration has made the case for consolidating the ferry landings
into one larger landing in the middle of the parish—an idea Nungesser says came about from resident comments at a State Master Plan meeting. But residents on both sides of the river as well as councilmen feel that consolidation would be not only inconvenient but dangerous, especially in the event of a storm.
A case for consolidation?
Since 1933, the Pointe-a-la-Hache ferry has been the link for Southern East and Westbank residents to conveniently move across the parish. Over time, the population
on the Eastbank has decreased significantly. According to 2010 census numbers, the Eastbank has lost 1,082 residents. But the population change isn’t only limited to
one side of the river: the parish as a whole has lost 3,715 residents over the last decade.
That staggering decrease in population is one of the driving reasons the administration
is in favor of the consolidation.
“We can’t afford $6 million a year continuously for the amount of residents—they’re
old ferries, the expense of keeping them up, its not going to get better it’s only going to
get worse,” said Nungesser during the January 23 PABI luncheon. “The ferries are full,
but they’re full of people from Belle Chasse hightailing out of the parish because they
don’t want to catch the bridge, it’s not benefiting the parish in anyway.”
Nungesser says that if the parish can sell off the existing ferries and bond out the rest of the money for a multi-lane, modern ferry, like the one in Galveston, lines would be reduced as more cars can fit and the drive on/drive off set-up would mean less time spent waiting for cars to load and unload.
Councilchair Byron Marinovich disagrees with that mindset.
“Putting one ferry in the middle of the parish would probably save money, but I
don’t think parish governments only concern should be saving money, we need to
think about how this affects residents,” said Marinovich at a public meeting in Buras
In addition to the cost, Nungesser says that if the parish opts to totally rebuild the
ferry landing, the current location is not strong enough to support the structure and
could compromise the levees.
In a letter to DOTD from May of 2012, Kenneth Nelson, President of Engineering
firm, Waldemar S. Nelson and Company, recommended that the Westbank landing,
if not both Pointe-a-la-Hache landings, be moved. However, there was no indication
how far the landing needed to be moved in order for it to be built safely.
“The presence of a thick stone layer at the site poses a constructability problem. The cause of the problem at the west bank appears to be a scour hole at the underwater
toe of the river bank slope, which may have developed due to propeller wash from
the ferry over the years,” Nelson wrote.
“The Corps of Engineers placed considerable amounts of stone rip rap in the area
of the west bank landing in 1972 and 1988. Driving piling through such a thick stone
layer would be problematic or impossible. The vibrations caused if pile driving were
attempted would be of concern given the slope stability situation and the proximity
of the levee.”
The 2012 adopted budget for the parish’s ferry system was $5.5 million, but the actual operating cost was $4.5 million for 2012. The amount of money collected from riders—$1 per vehicle, 50 cents per vehicle with a discount ticket or sticker— does not
even begin to make a dent in paying the bills, so the remaining balance is paid for out of the General Fund.
In terms of maintenance costs, in 2012 the parish spent $168,590 on boats and $7,484 on maintaining the ramps. But many argue that the parish is not in any point of financial trouble— 2012 saw a large surplus, and feel the argument of cost is a moot one.
Additionally, the issue of safety and accessibility is also brought up by consolidation
opponents. At the January 10 PPC meeting, many councilmembers argued that the should not be cut off by only having one ferry landing, fearing that in a storm event when the middle of the parish floods like it did during Hurricane Isaac, residents would have no way out.
For the past few weeks, southern Eastbank residents who depend on the Pointe-a-la-Hache ferry to cross the river for groceries, medical care, and even to go to work,
have been left with two options: drive upriver to catch the Belle Chasse ferry, or head
upriver into St. Bernard Parish.
Danny Fremin, owner of Fremin’s Grocery in Port Sulphur says that although business has not been affected by the ferry closure, he does have a concern about how it’s affecting residents.
“All of my Eastbank customers really have stopped shopping here, but it hasn’t had a big impact on business,” said Fremin. “I really feel bad for the people who work over there and live over here; its really a hardship for them.”
One of Fremin’s employees, Sharonne Turner has been waking up at 4 a.m. to drive her husband to work on the Eastbank, so she can get to work for 8 a.m. Turner says
she’s glad the parish is working on a solution to get the ramp back open, because she
and her husband truly depend on it.
“It used to be a ten minute ride to the ferry landing, now it’s about 3 hours roundtrip,” said Turner.
As work is being done on the temporary fix to get the landing open, the future solution
is still in the air. One aspect that both sides of the argument seem to agree on is that the ultimate decision needs to have plenty of feedback from residents. Both the Council and Parish President have talked about setting up a committee of residents and business owners from all parts of the parish, who can brainstorm on the issue and come up with the most viable solution for the future of the ferry system.
Eastbank resident Rev. Tyronne Edwards has taken the reins on organizing the committee and says he has gotten a great response so far from both sides of the river.
“We want to move from the idea that the ferry serves only the Eastbank; it serves
Plaquemines Parish,” said Edwards. Edwards explained that the committee’s
objective is to look at all of the facts on both sides of the argument, so citizens can
make an informed decision on the ferry system through transparency.
“Essentially what we want to do is look at all of the facts, all of the reports—from the Corps, from contractors, from the DOTD— and make the most informed decision on the future of the ferry,” he said. “So everyone can have a better understanding— there’s no name-blaming, its just residents coming together who want to make an informed decision based on information presented in a non-partisan way.”