Agreement reached in ferry dispute

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 28, 2009

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – After a yearlong legal battle with the Archdiocese of New Orleans, St. John Parish has finally reached a deal that may enable the Reserve-Edgard Ferry to resume operation.

Although the specifics of the agreement have not yet been fully ironed out, according to attorney Kerry Brown, who represents the parish in the matter, St. John has agreed to pay the archdiocese a one-time sum of $20,000 in exchange for the signing off on a permit that will allow Entergy to hook up the necessary wiring to power the ferry’s ramp as well as some traffic-control devices around the Edgard landing. Brown said the agreement should be finalized by Wednesday.

“We started working on the paperwork, but I disagreed with everything in it,” said Brown.

Brown filed a declaratory judgment examining a 40-year-old agreement between the parish and St. John the Baptist Church in Edgard in November 2008. A trial on the matter was set for Jan. 20. Brown said the amount offered by the parish was based on estimated legal costs that would have been incurred between now and the time of the trial.

The archdiocese had originally sought $50,000 per year from the St. John Parish in exchange for use of a parcel of land the church donated to the parish in 1967. They later reduced the amount to $34,000 per year. When Brown threatened to file a motion for summary judgment, however, the archdiocese agreed to the one-time payment.

“There really is nothing else they could do to block the ferry,” Brown said.

According to Brown, the archdiocese was on shaky ground regarding the situation from the start, saying their reclamation of the donated land had “no legal basis whatsoever.”

Although there has been some question of late about whether the state would allow the return of the ferry even if an agreement were reached, Brown said state officials have assured him the ferry will continue.

“The funding is there,” he said.

“It will take us roughly three months to have the ferry in place,” he added.

Since the ferry was shut down for repairs in June of 2007, those traveling between the east and west banks of St. John Parish have had to drive to the Veterans Memorial Bridge to cross the Mississippi River. The extra distance adds at least 20 minutes to the trip. Once the ferry returns, commuters will be able to make the trip in 15 minutes.

As for the legal wrangling, Brown for one is glad to finally be able to put the matter to rest.

“We were very happy they finally came on board,” said Brown.