Marinas Slowly Make Comeback in Hurricane-hit La.

May 9, 2006

A growing number of marina owners and operators in southern Louisiana have scraped together whatever resources they can find to reopen their businesses.

In a recent summary of the state’s fishing infrastructure, 80 recreational facilities in coastal Louisiana are fully operational, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Twenty-seven marinas are partially open and 46 remain closed, the survey found.

Many owners have worked for weeks to get their businesses back open.

“I’ll probably be working under an umbrella,” said Louis Viavant, who owns the Chef Harbor Marina in eastern New Orleans. “But, hey, I’ll do what I have to do. It’s something I knew I had to do.”

Viavant’s home and business were ripped from their foundations and scattered by Hurricane Katrina. For the past few months, he has commuted to The Chef from his apartment in Mandeville to remove debris from the marina and to clear his backdown.

He made arrangements for ice and live bait to be on site by the middle of this month and for fuel to follow shortly thereafter.

Viavant acknowledges that the Chef Harbor Marina is a shell of its former self. There are no boat slips available, there are no restrooms and there is no marina building. But since reopening, anglers have found their way to his business and he estimates he launches approximately 10 boats daily, with peak usage coming between Wednesdays and Sundays.

The marinas also play an important role in the state’s economy. Saltwater recreational fishing in Louisiana supports more than 8,000 jobs and creates more than $435 million annually in retail sales.

“This is something we’ve never seen before,” said Karen Foote, administrator for the LDWF Marine Fisheries Division. “I’m amazed in some cases that people want to go back. It’s been so heart-wrenching.”

In St. Bernard, the Breton Sound Marina is one of only a couple of recreational operations partially open.

“We’re getting ice from Houma and dead bait from the north shore,” Barry Brechtel, the marina’s co-owner, said. “It’s been a hodgepodge to put it together. But we’ll get it done. We’ve been saying all along we have the fish. And really, that’s all people need.”

The lack of overnight bunks hasn’t hurt business, Brechtel said. Breton Sound Marina has RV sites available and has been launching approximately 100 boats per day on weekends.

“We expect that in the spring, and it hasn’t been any different,” he said. “We were optimistic from Day One we could survive this. We see the glass as half full. That’s because the fishing has been outstanding. If the fish weren’t there, the glass would start to look empty real quick.”

Joe’s Landing in Lafitte has seen a tremendous upsurge in business since the storms. Though the marina building was flooded during Rita’s landfall, the Bourgeois family was able to reopen two weeks later.

Their ability to throw open the doors so soon after the storm proved a boon.

“Business has been incredible,” Sid Bourgeois said. “We see a lot of new faces, people from east of the river. We’re lucky enough to have everything back in operation. A lot of people tell us they never knew we were here to start with. Some people were just born and raised going to a certain area. But they’ve found us, and they come and catch fish and tell their friends and neighbors.”

Blackie Campo’s Marina has been a fixture in Shell Beach for nearly a century. So it was disheartening for many local anglers to learn that the Campo family had discussed the possibility of not rebuilding their landmark launch in lower St. Bernard Parish, which was obliterated during Katrina.

But according to Ken Campo Sr., his family plans to return, albeit on a smaller scale. They plan on selling bait and fuel but will not have a hoist in use.

“It will cost too much money for me to put it back in shape like it was before,” Campo said. “To make money with that hoist, you’ve got to have boats and boat sheds. I’d have to spend $500,000 to get the hoist and the sheds up, and what’s to say I’m going to get the boats? So many people lost boats.”

Campo said his family is waiting for inspections of the fuel tanks before they can begin selling gas. His two nephews plan to continue the shrimp and croaker operation and eventually will sell live bait at Campo’s. But like many others, the Campos aren’t sure how quickly they will reopen.

Information from: The Times-Picayune,

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