Bridge Saga Continues

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I am admittedly moving from reporter to advocate in this particular instance, writing what amounts to opinion on a topic that involves news.

First, I must make clear that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has vowed to make sure, in its handling of the Bayou Boeuf Kraemer Bridge repair matter that they will not allow anyone to go without needed emergency services during the three weeks or so that this rural crossing is planned for closure to traffic.

This is about the closure due for June that will last about three weeks, and plans are at this point for the Bayou Beouf Bridge that carries La. 307 across that body of water to remain in the open position, allowing vessel traffic through. The fact of the matter is that other than one swamp tour, there is little if any vessel traffic requiring regular opening of the bridge. And the swamp tour in question can make arrangements, with a little bit of help, to load its passengers on the south side of the bridge. At least that’s what’s off the top of everyone’s heads at this point.

Bambi Hall, a perfectly delightful woman who is a spokesperson for the DOTD, has made the importance of seeing that the community is safe very clear.

“Emergency services will have time to prepare for the closure,” she said. “The contractor has also taken the initiative to begin contacting emergency services. The residents will not be left without access to emergency services.”

The problem – despite the fact that Bambi is indeed honorable and a woman of her word – is that DOTD has not necessarily been getting all the information it needs. Neither has the Coast Guard. But I am getting ahead of myself. And I need to disclose a prejudice.

About ten years ago I was living in a camp boat on Bayou Boeuf, on the west side of the bayou, which is directly attached to Kraemer and Choctaw and Chackbay and Thibodaux. It was late at night and I had a problem involving breathing, something like an asthma attack, and I just plain couldn’t breathe. I struggled to call 911 and somehow they understood me. I tried every trick in the book not to panic, but it wasn’t doing much good. Suddenly there were thumping boots on the gang plank and there were member of the Bayou Boeuf Volunteer Fire Department, there before any ambulance could be. A few more minutes and I wouldn’t have been around to tell the tale.

I was not on the side of the bayou that now risks being cut off, although eventually I did move into a house there. But the point is that thinking of the folks who live on that less-populated side of Bayou Boeuf is that despite the best efforts of the Raceland Fire Department, whose district they are actually in, to get there in no way can they be as quick as the closely situated Bayou Boeuf first responders, the guys who saved my life. These are the guys who are worried because they might not be able to save lives on the other side of the bayou if the bridge remains closed to traffic. DOTD has already informed the Coast Guard that their plan is to keep the bridge open to the navigational traffic that barely exists. In a May 4 letter they made this clear. It allows for quick Coast Guard approval.

But there is a fellow named Douglas Blakemore at the Coast Guard, who is the Bridge Branch Administrator, and now that he knows about the concerns of the folks in Bayou Boeuf there may be a more thorough search for alternatives. U.S. Rep. Garret Graves has his staff looking into the questions as well, to see if there is an alternative that is reasonable.

The point is that finally people are looking, which is a good thing. And I have faith that if there is a way to make this needed bridge repair easier for the very special folks who live in this very unique little community, all of the people who can come up with the answers have been notified. So now we shall see.

John DeSantis