Residents voice frustrations over closure of a Plaquemines Parish ferry due to safety concerns

Plaquemines Parish Ferry frustrations
The Pointe a La Hache Ferry in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana
The Pointe a La Hache Ferry in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana (Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The state of Louisiana closed a ferry in Plaquemines Parish this week and some residents think it could have been avoided. They say the ferry has been neglected by the parish for years.

The ferry is in the community of Pointe a La Hache on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish, 50 miles from the city of New Orleans.

“It’s really laid back, there’s not much going on,” said Chase Encalade as she talked about the community, she only left to attend college in another state.

But she and others are perturbed over the state of the ferry they call critical to their way of life.

“For some reason they always repair it but just enough to where it breaks down once again,” said Encalade.

“The ramp is rusted out, it’s falling apart. It’s been like that,” said William Fortmayer who counts on the ferry many days of the week.

“I go down there about three or four days, I got a cattle operation down on the east bank [of the river] so I do cross back and forth,” said Fortmayer.

In response to an inquiry from FOX 8, a spokesman for the La. Department of Transportation and Development said on July 24 Plaquemines Parish government requested that DOTD inspect a deteriorated timber cap on the east bank side of the ferry landing. He said an inspector took pictures and verified the request and then on July 28 a DOTD bridge engineer notified the parish to close the ferry landing until the repair is made due to safety concerns.

Encalade said an area near her community floods easily during heavy rains and residents count on using the ferry to escape rising waters.

“This ferry has actually saved lives before; when there’s a hurricane coming and we need to evacuate we have to take this ferry,” she said.

Kindra Arnesen spelled out some of her frustrations on social media and later during an interview.

“For the east bank residents, we have Plaquemines Parish Medical Facility in Port Sulphur that’s just due south of that ferry landing and it completely cuts their access off to that medical facility,” said Arnesen. “It also cuts off our access to Freeman’s Grocery in Port Sulphur, the bank.”

She says neglect of the ferry has gone on too long.

“Past administrations and councils have tried to come together over and over again on this issue but for some reason the Point a La Hache ferry has just been passed over time and time again,” said Arnesen.

Plaquemines Parish Councilman John Barthelemy says the council has been trying to get the repairs done.

“And we’ve been fighting this for the last couple of years to get it done, to get it rebuilt,” he said.

Barthelemy says recently the council appropriated $1.6 million to redesign the ferry ramp by moving funds from a courthouse project but that was hampered by Parish President Kirk Lepine.

“And when we did that the parish president vetoed it at that time after we passed the resolution to appropriate the money and set it aside for that purpose. Then we had another council meeting to override the veto and we only had five council members present,” said Barthelemy.

Lepine’s office said he was out of town when comment was requested for this story. However, his spokesperson confirmed that he vetoed the council’s measure.

“And there was no reason to do that unless it was just political purposes,” said Barthelemy.

Encalade said she and her family relies on the ferry.

“I went to school across the river, my dad works across the river because there aren’t many economic opportunities on this side of the river, and this is also more of an impoverished part of the community,” she said.

Arnesen was asked what her message is to parish officials regarding the ferry

“Stop writing off the south end of the parish. We matter, we’re here, we’re taxpaying constituents,” she said.

Encalade feels the same.

“We definitely feel cut off from the rest of the community and like the people who are put in place to protect us don’t care about us,” she said.

Lepine’s administration says Plaquemines Parish Government is mandated to submit an acceptable responses for course of action within the next seven calendar days and that parish engineers are working on designing a scope of work plan that will be submitted to the state, and requesting quotes from contractors for the repairs. Also, it says the parish has actively started working on the response plan and signage and road closure information have been sent to the public and residents.

Additionally, the administration says the Belle Chasse/Scarsdale Ferry is in operation as a transportation option starting at 5 a.m. from the west bank. The last ferry leaves from the west bank at 9:30 p.m. and the east bank at 9:45 p.m., says the parish.

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