Corps-sponsored work damages boat launch, Kenner officials say

Council says corps responsible

Flood protection projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers near Lake Pontchartrain may be making Kenner safer, but they’ve also contributed to damage at the city’s recreational boat launch, which now must be repaired, according to city officials.

Councilman Keith Reynaud raised the issue of damage to Kenner’s Laketown boat launch last week and said the city must get the corps or its contractors to address the problem. Reynaud presented pictures he had of commercial boats illegally docking at the city’s boat launch while working on corps projects because it is more convenient.

The propellers on those boats have damaged the concrete boat launch and made use of the facility more difficult for the recreational boats it was designed to accommodate, Reynaud said. He said that a resident who is an amateur diver examined the boat launch and said there could be as much as $200,000 in damage.

“It appears that nobody is policing our boat launch,” said Reynaud, who added that he’s heard conflicting reports about whether the boats were given permission to dock at the launch by a city official.

Chief Administrative Officer Mike Quigley said the administration has contacted the corps about the problem and has received assurances that contractors have been told to stop using the boat launch. He also said the corps provided the city with a list of contractors and subcontractors so that the city can seek reimbursement for the damage.

“The city attorney’s office will be moving forward to try to seek some type of reimbursement,” Quigley told council members.

He declined to discuss the cause of the damage Friday, saying that the matter could result in litigation.

However, Quigley said the city has hired an engineer to determine the extent of the damage and develop a cost estimate for repairs. Even if the city doesn’t get any reimbursements from contractors, the boat launch will be repaired, he said.

“We’re going to make the repairs regardless,” Quigley said. “Anything else we get is lagniappe.”

Rene Poche, a corps spokesman, said that at least one contractor has said he was given permission by city officials to tie up a tugboat at the boat launch. In a statement, Poche wrote that as soon as the city notified the corps of the problem, the agency told contractors that commercial vessels could not dock at the boat launch. He wrote the corps never told contractors to use the launch and added that the dispute is primarily between the city and contractors.

“Any damage to the boat launch should be resolved by the contractor and the city of Kenner,” Poche wrote, adding that the corps was never notified of $200,000 in damage. “We will continue to work collaboratively with the city of Kenner throughout construction in that area.”

However, Reynaud said that even after the city notified the corps of the issues, contractors continued to dock at the launch. While the contractors are private companies, they are working on levee projects and pump stations for the corps, Reynaud said. He asked the city administration why the boats weren’t being targeted for violating city ordinances.

Quigley told Reynaud he wasn’t aware of permission being given to boats to use the launch.

“Even though there’s damage already there, we don’t want them to continue to go there and damage it worse,” Reynaud said. “I want to make sure that the city is just doing what is needed.”

Quigley said that the city has called the East Jefferson Levee District police about the boats, and they have responded quickly. Councilman Kent Denapolis suggested that the city send a memo to Kenner police Chief Steve Caraway and reach out to the U.S. Coast Guard if the problems persist. In the meantime, Denapolis said the city can issue its own citations.

“Why don’t we get out there and ticket these vessels?” Denapolis asked.

The boat launch is a key element at Kenner’s Laketown, which is one of the city’s premier recreational elements, and has been targeted for wholesale redevelopment in upcoming years.

In 2010, Kenner spent more than $700,000 in federal money to dredge at the boat launch after silt pushed in by Hurricane Katrina had made the harbor as shallow as 1 foot in some locations.