Proposed marina would be boon to Port Eads

Decades ago, the town of Port Eads was one of many thriving small communities near the mouth of the Mississippi River where residents carved out a living from the bounty of Louisiana’s waterways.

Changing land conditions slowly caused the disappearance of those communities, but now Plaquemines Parish officials are hoping to revive Port Eads through the completion of a $13 million marina that could be a boon for the parish’s tourism industry. But in order to realize that plan, the parish’s frequently bickering politicians will have to agree on how to operate the facility.

Reconstruction of the Port Eads marina is expected to be completed by March, but much of the structure, which includes boat slips, fishing camps and a boardwalk, has already sprung up along the river bank. The facility is several miles south of Venice and only accessible by boat or plane. Once completed, it will be the last way station for travelers before open water.

“Basically, this is the last place to stop before the mouth of river,” said Jarret Bauer, an engineer with All South Consulting Engineers LLC, which is overseeing the marina construction.

The Port Eads marina was a stopping place for travelers and the home of several seasonal hunting camps even after the town around it disappeared. But the marina was severely damaged during Hurricane Katrina, and the parish was only able to rebuild it with Federal Emergency Management Agency funding, Parish President Billy Nungesser said.

He hopes the retooled facility will return to its role as a resupply and refueling station for charter fishermen and a way station for workers headed out to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

In addition, officials hope to create a leasable camp for fishing enthusiasts and a showcase to entertain visiting dignitaries and tourists. The marina, which will have a fish-cleaning facility and weigh station, will be more convenient than having to travel back to the Venice marina, Nungesser said.

In addition to slips for about 35 boats, the marina will have its own bait and ice shop and fuel station. The facility is largely self-contained with its own sewerage treatment operation and water tank. Bauer said all of the structures are elevated roughly 11 feet above sea level.

Nungesser hopes the marina will boost the parish’s tourism industry, which is still rebounding after Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, he said.

“It’s a great draw for the whole region,” Nungesser said. “It’s really a phenomenal facility.”

He said rebuilding the facility was a struggle because FEMA denied the parish’s funding request multiple times. Parish officials ultimately won an appeal in 2008, and construction began in 2010.

The new facility provides a long-needed facelift for the marina, which had become dilapidated prior to Katrina as the parish struggled to maintain it. Despite its size, the marina was managed by a single man, who actually died during Katrina, Nungesser said.

“The parish would do minimal repairs but it was losing the battle,” he said. “One individual running that facility over the past few years, it had gone down.”

Nungesser is looking to move the facility from under parish management and have it run by a nonprofit created for that purpose. He wants to appoint the board that would run that nonprofit and have the parish provide $10,000 in “seed money.” The nonprofit could run fishing tournaments and other activities to generate money, although Nungesser admitted it’s likely the parish would still need to subsidize operations. He’s asking the Parish Council to consider that plan this month.

But some council members are leery of Nungesser’s proposal. They claim he has not explained the need for a nonprofit, and he’s pushing the council to make a decision much too rapidly. There are also concerns that turning operations over to a nonprofit would increase the possibility of graft, waste and abuse.

Councilman P.V. Griffin, whose district includes the marina, said that if the parish manages the marina it can keep a closer watch on the finances and hold its own employees accountable. The marina has the potential to be a boost for tourism, but it could also become a big headache with the wrong management, he said.

“I’m not too keen (on that plan) … I think we’re still in the negotiation process,” Griffin said. “If we go through the route of a nonprofit, we need to make sure we get some accountable people.”

Council Chairman Byron Marinovich said Nungesser is trying to push through the nonprofit plan too quickly, and the council really hasn’t had enough time to study the proposal. Nungesser said he wants the board in place before the marina opens, but Marinovich said that’s unlikely.

He stressed that he’s not opposed to using a nonprofit, but he’s concerned about quickly signing a long-term lease. He would prefer the parish consider a one-year pilot program to gauge the results.

“I really don’t comprehend the upside to the parish,” said Marinovich, who also questioned whose responsibility it would be to maintain the marina and nearby passes.

Nungesser claimed the delay in a decision is just another sign of the fractious relationship between his administration and the parish council. He said the marina needs management in place before it opens if it wants to get the best start to its operations.

“If it’s my idea, it’s a bad idea until I can prove the naysayers wrong,” he said.