If ferry ends, businesses, commuters both lose

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 30, 2013

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

RESERVE – Dianna Morris relaxed on a recent sun-splashed afternoon, enjoying a vista that may soon be extinct.
Morris was waiting for the Reserve/Edgard ferry to dock on the east bank so she could board and make her return trip to her Edgard residence. The ritual is nearly daily for Morris, who uses the ferry to bring her daughter, a senior at Riverside Academy, to and from school.
But Morris and many others may soon have to make alternative plans if state budget cuts force the permanent anchoring of the iconic ferry, which has been in operation for more than 50 years with the exception of a few years starting in 2007 when the ferry first stopped for repairs and then was mired in a legal battle with the Archdiocese of New Orleans over a piece of property needed for the ferry landing.
“It would be a big hardship,” Morris said of the potential ferry shuttering. “I would have to go out of my way to cross the bridge. That’s a long way.
“It would be a financial burden to all of the people on the west bank.”
Should the ferry cease operation St. John the Baptist Parish would be the only parish in southeast Louisiana without any way of crossing the Mississippi River, either via ferry or bridge. Residents traveling from one side of the river to the other would have to use either the existing bridges in Wallace or Luling, the former being a 32-mile round trip and the latter 45 miles.
“The way gas is going it would take a toll,” said Edgard resident Sheila Perkins, who uses the ferry for her daily commute to work. “The bridges are 20 miles out of the way. Being a single parent it would create a financial hardship.”
Besides inconvenience, however, potential economic impact may also be part of the fallout from a ferry shutdown.  Morris said she also rides the ferry to shop on the east bank, saying everything she needs is near the landing.
Central Avenue in Reserve is a virtual outdoor shopping mall, complete with a grocery, drug store, lounge and even a convenience store to pick up a snack for the trip home.
“When I get off the ferry this is where I want to be,” Morris said.
“I do a lot of shopping over here,” Perkins added.
But some commuters indicated they might be forced to alter their shopping habits, perhaps traveling to the neighboring parishes of St. James or St. Charles to spend their dollars, which is alarming to Gregg Simon, owner the family-owned Gregg’s Grocery Store, located near the ferry landing in Reserve.
“I’m very much concerned,” Simon said. “We get a lot of business from the west bank. (Residents) are here all of the time.
“The people of the west bank don’t have a (full service) grocery store over there.”
Simon said he estimated at least 15 percent of his business comes from west bank residents. He admitted the bottom line was affected when the ferry was shut down several years ago.
“We felt it then,” he said, adding that it’s not unusual for commuters to take shopping baskets on the ferry and leave them on the landing in Edgard. “We saw the difference when it opened back up.”
Elected officials have said they are diligently working to keep the ferry open but admit the effort may ultimately prove unsuccessful. State Rep. Gary Smith said the local delegation has pleaded its case with the state Department of Transportation and that more meetings are scheduled.
“We ultimately don’t control it,” Smith said. “We only have an influence over it.”
He said the budget for the upcoming fiscal year has not been finalized and that funding can be identified to keep the ferry operational past the scheduled July 1 docking.
“There’s still time to do something,” he said.
Councilman Art Smith, whose district includes Edgard, said he plans to enlist legislative help and perhaps Congressional help to maintain the ferry.
“We can’t let this stop running,” he said “We’ve got to position ourselves to be able to talk to people and get people to understand how important of a lifeline this ferry provides.”
Simon perhaps summed up the feelings of many when he simply stated, “I’m really hoping it does not happen.”