Showing posts with label Mississippi River. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mississippi River. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Plaquemine ferry, then and now

Here's how Louisianians rolled on the river -- the mighty Mississippi between Plaquemine Point on the east bank and the town of Plaquemine on the west -- back in 1982 on the ferryboat.

Here's how we did it a couple of weeks ago.

Back in 1982.

Today, in 2011.Things change, but not always by that much.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Casting pearls before Darwin

A week ago, some nihilist in New Orleans wrote the following on Twitter:

"Morganza stays closed, LSU might flood. Morganza opens, oyster beds might die. I know what I'd prefer. Damn, I'm mean.

As Lisa Loopner might have said three or so decades ago, "That's so funny, I forgot to laugh."

But it's Louisiana, so you know that the ability to eat fresh oysters is more important than pedestrian fare such as higher education, the economy or even survival itself -- if LSU and Baton Rouge went under the muddy waters, you know New Orleans would, too.

essay by Ivor van Heerden on the New Orleans news site, The Lens, really didn't surprise, shock, dismay or enrage me at all. And it shouldn't shock you that LSU fired van Heerden more than a year ago amid speculation it feared the professor's criticism of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would cost the university serious federal money.

What LSU didn't see coming was the loss of
lots more state money at the hands of Louisiana politicians, who value just about everything more than higher education.

So consider the following and reflect that natural selection
isn't just a matter of evolutionary biology. It's a matter of anthropology, too.
Denied an annual dose of sedimentation, coastal wetlands are shriveling. Thousands of square miles have been lost, a problem accelerated by the oil industry as it sliced and diced the coast with canals that invite vegetation-killing salt water.

In the last 30 years there have been calls — first by academics and concerned citizens, more recently by politicians — to set the river free … well, parts of it anyway. The idea is to mimic nature and build new land or at least sustain existing land. This is achieved by cutting “diversions” in the levee walls and letting the muddy water spill out over the surrounding wetlands. An alternative is to use siphons that suck water from the river to the lower wetland side. A number of diversions and siphons have been constructed – notably those at Davis Pond, pictured on The Lens’ home page, and Caernarvon – and have been acclaimed as the beginning of the way forward.

A test run with a different purpose in mind was prompted last year when the deepwater blowout in BP’s Macondo tract threatened to invade Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and coat them with oil. Scientists contacted the Governor’s Office and pushed successfully for the continuous operation of all diversions and siphons. The concept was that the lighter fresh water would act to flush out the oily salt water, and there is ample evidence that it had an impact.

Small wonder, then, that Louisiana is begging for the billions that will be needed – from Congress, or perhaps, the eventual settlement with BP – to create vastly more diversions and siphons in a truly serious campaign to rebuild the coast.

The unusually high and dangerous spring floods of 2011 present a glorious opportunity to demonstrate not only the land-building power of re-sedimentation, but our own resolve to get serious about coastal restoration. But are the diversions and siphons wide open? They are shut tight. Why?

It seems there is another power almost as mighty as the Mississippi: the power of special interests in Louisiana politics – in this case the oyster business. It appears to be a force sufficient to scare Baton Rouge into a state of paralysis that must be causing the rest of America to question the sincerity of our lamentations about land loss and coastal erosion. Why give billions more to a state that won’t work with the coastal-restoration infrastructure already in place?

IT TOOK an asteroid to do in the dinosaurs. Apparently, all it takes to doom Louisiana is an oyster . . . and a culture that's too short-sighted and dysfunctional to survive.

Monday, May 09, 2011

A matter of perspective

I'm not sure people "get it" when reports about flooding on the Mississippi River dominate the evening news.

For example, Omaha fought a hellacious battle with the rampaging Missouri River in 1952, and it survived by the skin of its teeth. Many towns didn't.

But the thing is, when you've grown up on the Mississippi River, you have a term for the Mighty Mo: "That little bitty river."

Above, we find, courtesy of Louisiana State University, a shot taken at noon today of the swollen Mississippi where it borders the west end of campus. It's only a few feet from the top of the levee.

THING IS, the levees on the Mississippi in south Louisiana are as big and bad as levees get in the United States.

To give you an idea, the first photo was taken from atop the levee, looking toward the water. The second one is from atop the levee looking the other way.

It's pretty much like taking a picture from the top of a three-story building. And if, say, this particular levee were to fail, the water would stretch as far as the camera can see.

And farther.

Did I mention the Mississippi won't crest for another two weeks at Baton Rouge?

Perspective. It something that's nice to have.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Baton Rouge '81: Rollin' on the river

Left a good job in the city
Workin' for the Man every night and day
But I never lost a minute of sleepin'
Worryin' 'bout the way things might've been

Big wheel keep on turnin'
Proud Mary keep on burnin'
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river

Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis
Pumped a lot of tane down in New Orleans
But I never saw the good side of a city
'Til I hitched a ride on the riverboat queen

Big wheel keep on turnin'
Proud Mary keep on burnin'
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river

If you come down to the River
Bet you're gonna find some people who live
You don't have to worry,
'cause you have no money
People on the river are happy to give

Big wheel keep on turnin'
Proud Mary keep on burnin'
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river

Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river

. . . rollin' on the river

-- John Fogarty, 1968

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The river and me, 1982

When you're a poor college student, the Mississippi River and a ferryboat can be an excellent -- and free -- way to kill some time on a summer weekend.

What you see here is the result of some productive time-killing one afternoon in, I am pretty sure, 1982. All I needed was to load myself and my secondhand Canon TX into my secondhand 1976 Chevy Vega (don't get me started) and drive down to the ferry landing on Plaquemine Point, south of Baton Rouge.

I'm relatively sure I was aiming to get some feature photos for The Summer Reveille at LSU. I was editorial assistant that summer semester of '82, my photojournalism class a couple of semesters before was still fresh in my mind . . . and it was a great way to kill time.


I honestly can't remember whether any of these photos got into the paper. I absolutely do know I hadn't taken a good look at those negatives for 28 years, not until I scanned them just now.

AND THE PERSON who left a comment yesterday on this post asking for more old Baton Rouge photos on the blog? Here you go.

More will follow.

For the record, I love this shot (left) of crewmen on the ferry's bridge scoping out a fine specimen of a female passenger. (What the hell do you think I was doing at the time?)

I, however, had a 35-millimeter camera and the excuse of taking feature photos for the LSU student newspaper.

That camera. I bought it the year before from City Pawn Shop downtown on Riverside Mall, which we all still called Third Street -- and which it officially is once again -- and I carried it just about everywhere.

What funded the purchase were the proceeds from the first freelance story I ever sold -- to the local paper. It was a history piece about the life and death decades earlier of Baton Rouge's first educational radio station, WLSU.

The story ran over two editions of the State-Times' and Morning Advocate's Friday entertainment magazine, Fun. I got $100, and then I got that camera.

I still have it today, and I still use it when I get a wild hair to shoot with actual film.

ANYWAY, what you see here -- untouched for almost three decades -- is a day in the life of the Plaquemine ferry, which ran and still runs between St. Gabriel on the east side of Iberville Parish and Plaquemine on the west. Look. It even has a Twitter feed.

Back in the day, I remember that election results from the eastern half of Iberville always came in last because you had to wait on the ferryboat.

TO TELL you the truth, more people should have to wait on the ferryboat -- even if you don't have a river to get across. You can't get in a hurry on a ferry; it comes when it comes, and you get to the other side when you get to the other side.

Ferryboats get you out of your aluminum-and-steel cocoon. They make it hard not to meet your neighbor . . . at least if you're both going the same way. And they put you in touch with the grandeur of nature.

In the case of the Plaquemine ferry, that would be the mighty, mile-wide Mississippi River.

The Plaquemine ferry: It was a damn fine way to kill a Saturday afternoon.

Bet it still is, too.