Parish seeking ferry operator

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 1, 2014

By Richard Meek
Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – The long-shuttered Edgard-Reserve ferry will remain dry-docked for at least the foreseeable future although negotiations with the state for resumption of the service are moving forward, St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom said.

Robottom, in response to an email request from the L’Observateur, said the review process for a Request For Proposals for ferry operators has been completed by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the Office of Community Development. The RFP was published Jan. 29 and must run for 30 days. (See page 3B for ad.)

At that point, the proposals will be evaluated and scored and a contract presented to the parish council for approval. According to the parish president, the entire process could ultimately take two months.

Even then, however, the sailing will not be smooth for the ferry to begin traversing the Mississippi River.

“A final recommendation will be dependent to secure a qualified operator at an acceptable price,” said Robottom, who offered no timetable. “Once a contractor is selected, additional time will be required to ramp up equipment and staffing to begin the service.”

She said a right-of-way agreement for the west bank landing has been secured and negotiations with for an agreement for the east bank landing are continuing. Additionally, an agreement with the DODT has been signed for use of the ferry and barges.

One unanswered question by the administration is the financial liability the parish will assume for operation of the ferry. The parish is receiving money from a CBDG grant, and Robottom said the shortfall will be covered by tapping into Hurricane Isaac funds.

“We don’t know how much we are going to have to pay for the ferry,” council member Jaclyn Hotard said. “It’s not really clear.”

Hotard added she is not sure if the ferry will have adequate riders to sustain the parish subsidizing the service.

“We’ll see,” she said.

DODT cut off ferry service last year not only in St. John Parish but other parishes along the river as well. Some ferry service has resumed in Orleans Parish, but the Edgard/Reserve ferry service has been idle since July 31.

At that time, parish officials anticipated the service being operational by late summer or early fall and then pushed it back at the end of the year. Under the current timeline, the service may be out nearly one full year before ferries begin transporting vehicles, with an anticipated rate increase and shorter hours.

“Everything takes too long, but I did not anticipate it taking this long,” Robottom acknowledged. “However, we were not aware of all of the requirements of the funding source and the need for new agreements for ferry landings. Additionally, with little to no experience drafting a ferry operation RFP, we relied on assistance from outside entities.”

Robottom said she is committed to restoring the ferry service for one calendar year, at which point data will be evaluated to determine if the operation will continue.

“Ferry service remains a vital means of transportation for residents in our community and has proven to be even more important over the last week (when wintry conditions shut down the Veterans Memorial Bridge for long stretches of time),” she said. “We remain strongly committed to restoring the service. We continue to receive questions about the return of the ferry and the great need in the parish.”