Boaters oppose cutbacks at Saltwater Barrier - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Boaters oppose cutbacks at Saltwater Barrier

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) -

In scarcely a week, operating hours are to be reduced at the Calcasieu River Saltwater Barrier.

Access to the river is important for business and pleasure -- and some remain determined to fight the U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers' plan to close off access during certain hours of the day to save money.

It's too cold and windy for boating this day, but soon enough those like  Ben Garber will be back on the water. Garber is upset with plans to reduce operating hours 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. He says it's not fair to reduce access, especially considering the high volume of those who use the river for recreation.

"Currently, the locks are open to more than 13,500 recreational boaters a year. But the guidelines that the federal government has put for this new reduced level of operation, doesn't consider recreational lockage. They only consider commercial lockage," Garber said.

He thinks the Corps should look into automated controls that don't require a person there all the time. And he questions whether the cost savings from shortening hours really accomplishes anything.

"Are there really cuts and unfortunately, are people losing their jobs or are they just transferring resources to other jobs," Garber said.

He's building a house north of the barrier and said while the business in that area may not be heavy industry he said new restaurants to open and such do help the economy.

"It's a big impact on our community. We live in Southwest Louisiana. We're a boating community. We live on the water. And the river is a resource we all enjoy and we want to have access to it as much as we can," Garber said.

Calcasieu Police Juror Hal McMillin said he's determined to make sure that the Saltwater Barrier doesn't become a tourniquet that cuts off recreational boating and the economy. He said after the first of the year they'll be working hard to come up with a solution.

A spokesman for the Corps said the reduced operations hours will go forward as planned, though they may be adjusted in the future, as long as they don't exceed an average of 12 hours a day (which is reduced from the current operating time of 16 hours per day.)

From Rachel Rodi with the Corps: "No changes to the plan. We still plan to begin the 7a-7p schedule at the end of the month. As Mr. Accardo stated at the meeting, we are open to changing those hours (while still averaging 12 hours a day)...for example, during winter months, say from Oct. 1 to March 30, keep the barrier open to boat traffic for 10 hours from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. During summer months, from April 1 to Sept. 30, keep the barrier open to boat traffic for 14 hours from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m."

"But ... If there are two sets of times, our concern is that boaters will forget and get caught in the confusion. However, if this is what folks want, we are open to trying it. Problem is that we have not gotten a consensus on what everyone wants."

Copyright 2012 KPLC All rights reserved.

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