Posted on August 23, 2023
For years, boaters have griped about the public boat launches near Lock No. 1 on the Pearl River Navigational Canal.
Now, construction has started on a new launch that will sit alongside the existing ramp. The $600,000 project includes new concrete ramps north and south of the lock, asphalt roads and a gravel parking area — upgrades St. Tammany Parish officials say are long overdue for the high-use area.
The work, being done by Grillot Construction of Belle Chasse, is expected to be completed between four to six weeks.
“It was poorly designed when it was made in the first place,” Lane Polk, of Pearl River, said of the original launch.
Polk and his family have a fishing camp in the area and he noted the challenge of boaters having to maneuver their trailer to get to the launch from the end of Lock Road. Once there, he said, it becomes difficult for people to get their boats in and out of the water.
“Depending on the trailer you have, you have to back further down the launch. Big bass boats with taller trailers will have to go deeper and they may have to put their truck wheels in the water,” Polk said.
An accumulation of silt and sand can also burden boaters, especially when the river is low, Polk said.
St. Tammany Parish President Mike Cooper said the launch is one of 16 coastal restoration and protection projects funded through the federal Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. About $24.7 million in GOMESA funding has been allocated for various projects throughout St. Tammany with $108,000 left to spend, according to Cooper’s Office.
But some say devoting funds for a new boat launch does little to chip away at more important problems facing the Pearl River.
Earlier this year, the river was listed as one of the most endangered waterways in the U.S. by the environmental advocacy group, American Rivers. The group said plans to dredge and dam the river by commercial developers threaten to worsen flooding and contaminate the freshwater system.
Janice O’Berry, of Pearl River, said a new boat launch is great in the short term for the busy area that picks up even more during the Big Bass Tournaments on Thursdays, but the river’s future is in peril.
“You can see how bad the river is silted in and how much debris is in the river,” she said. “That’s a drainage problem on this side of St. Tammany Parish.”
O’Berry said the mouth of the Pearl River Diversion Canal on the south end of Lock No. 1 is dangerous due to the low water level. “That’s our biggest problem. You cannot get safely in and out. People have gotten hurt,” she said.
But plans to address that are in the works, according to a recent parish report on GOMESA spending. “During low water periods,” the report said, “the mouth of the canal is almost completely blocked and several boating accidents have occurred there.”
The Pearl River Diversion Canal Restoration project is slated to begin this fall. The $2.2 million work will include dredging about 3,000 cubic yards near the mouth of the river.