Even as legislation seeking to make the state’s tidally-influenced waters open to public access began its journey in the Louisiana Legislature this week, a long-time marina in Gibson is facing closure early next year because the landowner is not renewing a waterway lease that ultimately provides boater access to the Intracoastal Waterway.

According to Ben Weber and Daryl Carpenter, board members of Louisiana Sportsmen’s Coalition, Bob’s Bayou Black Marina could have to close its doors effective March 1, 2019 because a new lease agreement for a 300-yard stretch of waterway couldn’t be worked out with the landowners, Williams Inc. 

“Williams has refused to renew their lease on this short stretch of canal that leads to the Intracoastal. The short canal actually leads to the Shell Barge Canal, which leads to the Intracoastal,” Carpenter said. “It’s that little short canal that runs across ‘quote-unquote’ Williams property that Williams has decided they’re not going to allow them to use anymore. Their lease officially ended March 1 of this year ….

“It’s all been a huge shock. Williams has agreed to give them a one-year extension on their existing lease so they could make their closing plans. But as of Feb. 28 of next year, they will cease operations unless something drastically changes…. They launch anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 boats a week during hunting season,  and that’s fixing to go bye-bye. I can’t imagine it’s got any kind of water quality issue or anything like that — it’s strictly greed. They just don’t want them to use that little canal anymore.”

The March 2019 closure was confirmed on Bob’s Bayou Black Marina’s Facebook page.

“At that time, Williams plans to put a gate or floating structure to end all access out of Bob’s into the Shell Barge Canal/Intracoastal Waterway,” the post reads. “We are in shock and highly upset by this decision, as this will end a small family business that Bob grew and maintained himself for 25-plus years to allow others to easily do the things they and he loved to do.”

The marina announcement comes on the heels of the filing of House Bill 391 on March 12 by Rep. Kevin Pearson, a Republican who represents District 76 in St. Tammany Parish.  

“The legislation aims to open access to Louisiana’s ebbing and flowing waters,” Carpenter said. “It has nothing to do with private ponds on private property, or any type of property rights …. It doesn’t affect ownership in any way, shape or form. It just says if your canal is fed by a public body of water, you have tapped the public resource — so there’s access granted to your water also.”

“We claim this as Sportsman’s Paradise, but we’re locking all the sportsmen and women out of it,” Weber added. “This is a very common-sense, direct approach that does not infringe upon private property owners’ rights, it doesn’t try to claim ownership or put them in that position, and it also tries to protect them from any additional liability as we move forward trying to solve this.”

Currently the bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Civil Law and Procedure, contains language that “grandfathers in” obstacles constructed by private landowners prior to March 2, 2018.

“Everything is still up for debate. The conversations that we had Tuesday, with the video and photographic evidence we showed, the attitude out of that meeting is that’s more than likely going to be amended to ‘properly permitted and constructed gates,’” Carpenter said, noting the legislation is not seeking to interfere with responsible landowners who might have created management structures to improve the quality of their property and marshes.

“What this bill is looking to do is allow those projects to happen, but get rid of all this crap of just throwing a cable up across a canal or taking old oilfield pipes and filling the mouth of a canal with it,” Carpenter said. 

Weber said the key now is for sportsmen and women to contact the members of the Committee on Civil Law and Procedure, who are listed here.

“Everybody needs to be talking about the unfortunate example that has just been made of Bob’s Bayou Black Marina, a long-standing business that could have its doors shut based on this (current) law. Right now, the action that is most important for people to take is to be reaching out directly to the members of this committee,” Weber said. “We can get people to reach out to the entire Legislature, but everything lives and dies in committee. If it doesn’t get out of that committee, it has a very poor statistical chance of ever getting to the governor’s desk. So the only and most critical thing right now is to educate the living hell out of the members of that committee so they understand when this comes before then it’s not something to be deferred, this is not something to be considered too complicated to take up in a contentious legislative session — this is something that needs to be addressed. 

“This affects Louisiana on every front — our businesses, our communities and our heritage and culture. So any message relayed to this committee that expresses the urgency and importance of advancing this piece of legislation is all we’re thinking about right at this moment.”

Weber and Carpenter are hopeful sportsmen and women will turn out at the Capitol when the committee hears HB 391. For more information on the legislation, or for information on how to contact your legislator, go to the Louisiana Sportsmen’s Coalition website.  

LouisianaSportsman.com will update readers when HB 391 is scheduled to go before the Committee on Civil Law and Procedure.