Officials with the New Orleans District of the Army Corps of Engineers met with the public last week in Westlake. The meeting was held to discuss cutting back service hours at the Calcasieu River Saltwater Barrier and a feasibility study on improving navigation at the Calcasieu Lock. (John Guidroz / American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 6:13 PM
Plans to reduce the hours that the Calcasieu River Saltwater Barrier remains open diminishes one of the prime recreational waterways in Southwest Louisiana.
Budget cuts have caused the Army Corps of Engineers to limit the time the barrier is open to commercial and recreational boating from 16 to 12 hours. Absent an 11th hour reconsideration, the barrier will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. beginning Dec 30. The Saltwater Barrier is currently open from 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
The new hours would essentially sever the river for boaters and fishermen near Mims Road east of Westlake and near the termination of River Road on the south bank of the Calcasieu River.
As expected, Corps officials got an earful at a public hearing last week from angry residents who live along the river and those who use the stretch of river north of the I-10 bridge for boating, skiing and fishing.
The Corps’ chief of operations for the New Orleans District, Chris Accardo, said the Inland Marine Transpor-ation System funding had been cut by more than 22 percent over the past five years. He said the reduced hours for the Saltwater Barrier would save between $200,000 -$300,000 annually.
Accardo said the funding crisis is affecting locks and dams nationwide and that the Saltwater Barrier access reduction is ‘‘not something the New Orleans District wants to do.’’
When it was suggested that remote controls could be used to open and close the barrier, Accardo said safety concerns — i.e. liability issues — cause the Corps to rule out using them.
But the Corps appears to be ignoring a common sense solution — not out of the ordinary for a federal agency. Why not stagger the hours when the barrier is open to better align with the time when the river experiences the most traffic?
Boaters and fishermen don’t gauge their time on the water by their watches as much as they do by available sunlight.
So let it be with the Saltwater Barrier.
During winter months, say from Oct. 1 to March 30, keep the barrier open to boat traffic for 10 hours from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. During summer months, from April 1 to Sept. 30, keep the barrier open to boat traffic for 14 hours from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. That averages out to 12 hours a day.
Accardo has already acknowledged that the Corps would keep the barrier open until midnight for special events like Contraband Days in later April and early May and the July 4th holiday.
Enacting more flexibility in the operational hours of the Saltwater Barrier is a win-win situation, providing the monetary savings the Corps seeks while keeping it open for more hours during the peak boating and fishing season.
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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.