Officials with the New Orleans District of the Army Corps of Engineers met with the public Wednesday night 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: Thursday, December 13, 2012 5:05 PM
WESTLAKE — Cutting the daily service hours of the Calcasieu River Saltwater Barrier from 16 hours to 12 hours would significantly impact the thousands of recreational boats that use the waterway daily, local residents told Army Corps of Engineers officials during a public meeting Wednesday.
Chris Accardo, chief of operations for the Corps’ New Orleans District, talked about a proposal that would reduce the shift hours from 6 a.m.-10 p.m., to 7 a.m.-7 p.m. He said the 12-hour shift was chosen because more commercial and recreational boats were going through the structure during that time. The changes would become effective Dec. 31.
Accardo said the service hours are being cut because of a lack of federal funding to the Inland Marine Transportation System. The inland navigation funding for the 2013 fiscal year was $780 million — down from $1.05 billion in the 2008 fiscal year.
“This is not something the New Orleans District wants to do,” Accardo said. “These funding concerns are not isolated to just us. It is a crisis going on across this country.”
Accardo said the locks and dams are given one of six levels of service based on the volume of commercial traffic. A lock with more than 1,000 commercial lockages per year is given full service 24 hours a day.
The Calcasieu River Saltwater Barrier had 389 commercial locks in 2011. This puts it under the Level 3 service, which is 8-12 service hours a day. The barrier had nearly 14,000 recreational lockages in 2011.
Accardo said the barrier would be open until midnight during special events like Contraband Days and the July 4th holiday.
Accardo said the reduced service hours at the Calcasieu River Saltwater Barrier would save anywhere from $200,000-$300,000 annually.
“It’s not that much in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “But when you multiply that by every lock in the nation, you’re talking about a considerable amount of money.”
Service hours at Catfish Point Control Structure, Schooner Bayou Lock and Berwick Lock, located in Morgan City, would also
be reduced, Accardo said.
Ben Garber, district commander for the U.S. Power Squadron, said the 7 p.m. closing time “really impacts the recreational boating community.” He said he would prefer later service hours during weekends and the summer.
Jon Ingle said cutting the service hours would impact commercial development along the lakefront. He asked Accardo about using remote controls to operate the structure. Accardo said there is remote technology available to operate, but the Corps is reluctant to use it because of safety concerns.
“It’s unreliable,” Accardo said. “There (are) chances of accidents.”
Jim Mestretta, owner of the Lady of The Lake passenger vessel, said the reduced service hours is like “shutting the Calcasieu River down for 12 hours.”
“You say you are saving money, but you’re costing people money also,” he said. “Now you’re telling people to be down river by 7 p.m. in the summertime when it doesn’t get dark until 9:30 p.m.”
District 14 Calcasieu Police Juror Hal McMillin asked if local government agencies could ask for extended service hours during other holidays and special events.
“The main issue I see is the quality of life of the recreational boater,” he said.
Jeff Varisco, the district’s project manager, gave an update on a feasibility study to improve navigation at the Calcasieu Lock. He said the lock mainly serves as a barrier to keep saltwater out of the Mermentau Basin. Varisco said navigation has become unsafe at the lock, especially during heavy rains.
He said the Corps is considering several options to maintain drainage. Some include changing the existing lock structure to decrease the impact of drainage events, using a pump station or redirecting drainage flow.
Varisco said the Corps plans to hold another public meeting in June to discuss moving forward with specific drainage improvement options.
Residents can email questions or comments on the Calcasieu River Saltwater Barrier to the New Orleans Army Corps office at email@example.com