Parish looking for input on Reserve-Edgard ferry
Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 3, 2012
By ROBIN SHANNON
LAPLACE – Just one year after the return of the Reserve-Edgard ferry following a nearly four-year absence, St. John the Baptist Parish leaders are gearing up again to save the service from the state budget chopping block, and residents are being encouraged to join in the fight.
At Tuesday’s parish council meeting in LaPlace, St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom encouraged council members and residents to make contact with state legislators and even Gov. Bobby Jindal to express to them the value of the ferry to the region.
“We encourage everyone to call, write, email them to let them know important it is to keep the ferry in service,” Robottom said. “We have representatives in our corner, two that serve on the Legislature’s transportation committee, but they need to hear from the residents.”
The Reserve-Edgard ferry, along with the White Castle ferry, is among a list of state-funded programs that would be cut as part of Jindal’s recently released state budget proposal. The budget projection says it costs $17 for each car that crosses the river on the ferry, while the state collects a $1 per car on vehicles traveling from Reserve to Edgard. Eliminating the two ferries would save the state $2.3 million per year, according to the budget projection.
Some parish council members, however, believe the ferry is too valuable to the community to give up. Councilman Art Smith, who represents the west bank, said Tuesday that the ferry is essential to both the west bank and the east bank, especially for those with no transportation.
“Lots of plant workers use the ferry daily,” Smith said. “To take it away at this particular time is really bad. We have a situation where we have to cross into another parish to get from one side of St. John to the other. This would be a bad move.”
With support from parish administrators, Smith authored a resolution urging the legislature to keep the ferry in service. The council approved the resolution unanimously.
According to figures from the state Department of Transportation and Development, over the past year the ferry logged more than 161,400 vehicles carried, which averages out to about 550 vehicles per day of ferry operation. DOTD spokesperson Amber Hebert said the figures are higher than previous averages prior to the ferry being shutdown in 2007.
“The previous averages were not nearly as high is they have been recently,” Hebert said. “The highest average per day was rarely above the 500 vehicle mark, which is a positive for the future.”
Capt. Juan Olivares, who regularly mans the wheel of the ferry, said the averages are only part of the story. He said that on any given day there is a constant line of vehicles waiting at both ferry landings, with some getting left behind. There are also a reasonable number of pedestrian riders.
“There are some trips where we cannot fit all the vehicles,” he said. “Occasionally the cars will wait, but some leave and make the trip to the bridge. It is a well used ferry.”
Without the ferry in place, residents must make a 35- to 40-minute detour to the Veterans Memorial Bridge between Gramercy and Wallace to cross the river to either side, which has some residents wondering what would happen if the ferry were to cease.
“I know that it would be a hit to the wallet with gas prices so high,” said resident Derek Allen, who uses the ferry to get to and from work each morning. “I’d be willing to pay a fare for both crossings I make every day if it meant saving the ferry. There are many people who use it.”
Robottom said Tuesday she had spoken with legislators from the River Parishes before and after the proposal was released and pointed out that the proposal is not set in stone.
“There is still time for us to negotiate with the governor to keep the service in place,” she said. “We have the entire session to work things out.”