Closed Edgard ferry makes getting to west bank inconvenient and expensive

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Staff Reporter

EDGARD – During times of operation, the Reserve-Edgard ferry charges $1.00 per vehicle and 25 cents for pedestrians. But in the 13 months it’s been out of commission, the ferry has taken a substantially larger toll on residents on both sides of the river who relied on it for transportation.

The ferry has been offline since the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) closed it in June of last year so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could upgrade the West Bank’s levee by paving a concrete slope. The initial plan was for the ferry to be operable again by November.

In November, DOTD officials filed a permit request to install the electrical utilities on the levee it needs to operate the ferry again, but a Corps official said the information in the DOTD request was incomplete and the Corps declined to send the required letter of no objection to the Lafourche Basin Levee District, the agency that ultimately issues the levee permits.

DOTD spokesman Brendan Rush said DOTD did not receive word that its proposal was insufficient until mid-January. A second attempt by DOTD a few months later failed to provide the clarification the Corps had requested and led to the same result.

Rush said on Monday that a third request had been filed in June. “We think they’ll allow it this time,” he said. “The Corps has gotten a little more strict and it’s their levee, so we have to do what they say.”

Rush said the ferry could be up and running four to six weeks after the Corps grants the permit and Entergy installs the equipment, but he could not specify an exact timetable and didn’t know how much longer the Corps would take in its decision.

A Corps spokeswoman, Amanda Jones, said on Tuesday that the Corps would be meeting with DOTD officials this week to discuss the request.

The ferry’s closure has inconvenienced and frustrated hundreds of people in St. John and has come at a time when gas prices have hit record highs. Before shutting down, the 17-car ferry carried about 400 vehicles and nearly 40 pedestrians on average each day, Monday through Friday.

For the time being, motorists needing to get from one side of the river to the other in St. John are first driving west to cross the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Gramercy. The trek from Reserve to Edgard is more than 20 miles each way without the ferry.

St. John Clerk of Court Eliana DeFrancesch said employees at her office in Edgard have been hit hard by the ferry’s closure and have begun carpooling to save money. “It’s definitely hindered and aggravated people here,” said DeFrancesch, who lives on the East Bank and commutes to work everyday.

DeFrancesch added that the absence of the ferry has been particularly burdensome for jurors traveling across the river to the courthouse, calling the stipend they receive “not worth it.”

“We call every week and there’s always a different answer,” she said. “I hope it opens quickly because it’s certainly taking a toll on the public.”

Several Edgard residents said in interviews that they have cut back on trips to the East Bank because they simply can’t afford to go as often.   

Barbara Morris, who no longer drives, said she relied on the ferry to have her prescription filled across the river but that she now has trouble finding someone to bring her. “It’s a headache,” she said. “The ferry was definitely helping us out.”

Kevin Savoie, an Edgard resident who doesn’t own a car and often used the ferry as a pedestrian, has had to come up with a more creative means of getting to town. “There ain’t too much on this side and you can’t walk across, so I hitchhike to the other side,” he said Monday sitting in front of the courthouse. “People said they kept the ferry open just for the courthouse, but it ain’t just for the courthouse. It was for us, too.”

Leona Gauthier said she’s scaled back her trips to the grocery store on the East Bank. “I’m wondering if we’re ever going to get it back,” she said.