Return of St. John ferry may be just weeks away

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 27, 2010



LAPLACE – After a more than two-year period of inaction that involved repairs and a drawn out legal battle, the Edgard-to-Reserve ferry could return to the Mississippi River as soon as early May.

Parish Attorney Kerry Brown told St. John the Baptist Parish Council members Tuesday that Entergy officials have obtained necessary permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to place a utility pole near the Edgard landing — a critical piece to getting the ferry back on line.

“We are on schedule to getting the ferry back on line by late April or early May,” Brown said. “It just depends on how fast crews work and how long it takes to get necessary operators in position.”

Brown said Entergy is in the process of assembling a work crew, and work could begin on getting the pole in place within the next couple of weeks.

The ferry was shut down in June 2007 while the corps and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development conducted repairs to the levee and ferry landings. That closure was only expected to last four to six months.

Once repairs were completed, however, the parish and the Archdiocese of New Orleans haggled over rights to a servitude along a stretch of batture near St. John the Baptist Church in Edgard, where Entergy wanted to place the pole.

The church donated the land to the parish in the 1960’s, but the dispute arose after the corps made the improvements. After a year of legal wrangling, Brown said the parish agreed in November to make a one-time payment of $20,000 to the church to settle the fight.

He said the settlement was finalized in January after the parish proved to the Archdiocese the state intends to restart ferry operations.

Amber Hebert, a DOTD spokesperson, said the state is committed to bringing the ferry back on line as soon as possible. She said the DOTD is in the process of hiring the necessary crew to operate the ferry and landings.

“The boat requires five deck hands and one marine engineer,” Hebert said. “We have officially hired two of the five deck hands with three more wading through the paperwork process. We are still looking for a licensed marine engineer. We are accepting applications at our Web site (”

Before it was shut down in 2007, the 17-vehicle ferry averaged about 11,000 vehicles, at $1 per car, and 1,800 pedestrian riders, at 25 cents per person, a month, according state figures. With the boat out of commission, motorists have had to drive an extra 12 miles out to the Veterans Memorial Bridge in St. James Parish, which connects to the town of Wallace on the west bank of St. John Parish.

The trek adds more than 20 minutes to a ride that would only be 15 minutes on the ferry.

Tuesday’s announcement produced a smattering of applause among the council and members of the audience inside the council chambers, but some are still skeptical about a permanent return.

“I’m still taking a ‘wait and see’ approach,” said Councilman Haston Lewis, who represents the west bank. “I hope we can get it back for good.”

State budget shortfalls have threatened ferry operations across the state. State figures show that ferries costs the state about $22 for each vehicle transported across the river. Recommendations to shut down four of the seven state-operated ferries were sent to a commission to streamline government spending, but any closings would have to be approved by the state Legislature.