“Somebody could use it as a camp. Somebody could use it as an excursion boat. You have to be a little creative (and) use your imagination.” DELOS TURNER, Plaquemine’s port captain
Got $200,000, ample space on a river and a lot of cars to park? Then you could become the captain of a 233-gross-tonnage ferry.
The state plans to clear clutter Saturday by auctioning off old computers, desks, chairs, printers and a ferry built 62 years ago at Avondale shipyard.
The state retired the ferry — named the Saint Charles — from service in June when it dropped transport across the Mississippi River between White Castle and Carville. The vessel currently is docked in Plaquemine.
For state Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, the auction signals the loss of a decades-long battle to preserve a ferry that saved workers 40 to 60 miles a day in their commutes.
“After 24 years of fighting, it’s depressing,” she said.
The Jindal administration tasked Delos Turner, Plaquemine’s port captain, with showing the ferry to prospective buyers. By midweek, he’d fielded a few phone calls and talked to a man who might come out to take a look.
“Somebody could use it as a camp. Somebody could use it as an excursion boat. You have to be a little creative (and) use your imagination,” he said.
Minimum bid for the Saint Charles is $200,000. The ferry can hold 17 vehicles and more than 100 life preservers. The bidding starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at 1059 Brickyard Lane, Baton Rouge. Payment can be made with cash, check, money order or credit card.
Bids may be made in person or over the Internet.
In addition to the ferry, the state also hopes to unload two ferry landing barges, a tugboat and a work barge.
The state currently operates five ferry crossings at an estimated cost of roughly $12.5 million. Just a few years ago, the state ran 10 ferry crossings at an estimated cost of roughly $21 million.
The town of Melville fought back when DOTD announced plans to close its ferry in 2010. Residents staged a protest march at the State Capitol and demanded to see the governor. Farmers said they used the ferry to tend to crops on the opposite side of the Atchafalaya River. The Jindal administration countered that the volume of business wasn’t justifying the operating expenses and closed the ferry.
A year later, ferry service between St. Francisville and New Roads ended once construction was complete on the John James Audubon Bridge. Several hundred people turned out to bid the ferry farewell.
The Melville ferry barge and boat sold at auction in 2011 for $256,000. St. Francisville’s ferry moved to another location.
The White Castle ferry closed for good a week ahead of schedule this summer when too many workers quit ahead of layoffs.
White Castle resident Paul Bajon, 93, said he remembers when ferry service at that point in the Mississippi River amounted to a skiff that would take 10 to 12 people across at a time to Carville. A ferry substantial enough to carry people and vehicles came later.
Bajon’s nephew, Charlton Jr., said losing the ferry will be an inconvenience and an added expense for his neighbors, who now will need to drive to the ferry in Plaquemine or to the Sunshine Bridge near Donaldsonville to get to jobs across the river. The Bajon family’s more than 100-year-old drugstore is one of the few businesses along the main drag in the one-stoplight town.
“White Castle’s problem is we never could grow. It’s just sugar cane,” Charlton Bajon Jr. said.
The Gretna-Canal Street ferry also stopped running this year. The Edgard-Reserve ferry is docked while the state works out a management takeover by the parish government. The ferry at Algiers Point is running on a reduced schedule.
DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas said she is committed to keeping the Cameron Parish, Enterprise/Duty, Lower Algiers/Chalmette and Plaquemine ferries running as long as the need for them is justified.
“In the near term, we have no intention of closing those four ferries,” she said.
LeBas said the ferries that have closed did so because of state efficiency concerns. Sometimes continuing operations just did not make sense once the cost of running the ferry was compared to the revenue and the ridership, she said.
For ferry lovers like Satellite Beach, Fla., schoolteacher Joe Scott, the demise of ferries across the country is a sign of economics trumping the draw of a peaceful ride on the river.
Scott and his wife, Lisa, make a point of riding the Algiers Point ferry whenever they visit New Orleans. Pedestrians ride the ferry for free.
“They’re an interesting thing in that there is so much skill involved in manipulating it across the river and landing it. Two, there’s always the rhythm of the river,” Joe Scott said.
With the White Castle ferry headed to the auction block, St. Germain said she now has a new focus.
She vows that she will get a bridge built for Iberville Parish before she dies.