Editorial: More flexibility needed in deciding operational hours of Saltwater Barrier

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.