Louisiana July 4 Boat Parade Cancelled Due to Safety, Insurance Issues

By TERRY L. JONES, The Advocate | June 18, 2014

The family who organizes and sponsors the popular False River Fourth of July Boat Parade in Pointe Coupee Parish says it is calling it quits.

The reason, family members say, is new pressure from the state to obtain liability insurance and provide adequate security patrols for the safety of participants – a burden they aren’t prepared to shoulder.

“We just can’t take on the responsibility anymore,” attorney Marc Barker, of Jarreau, said Friday. “It used to be a little parade; now it’s hundreds of people and boats. It’s not necessarily a parade anymore. It has evolved into something else.”

Family members say they hope the boat parade – a local tradition for more than 30 years – will resume next year under the sponsorship of a local nonprofit organization or group with the resources to support the event.

The event has evolved from modest beginnings into more of a floating party. Dozens of boats and watercraft now cluster in the middle of the south end of the 10.5-mile-long oxbow lake to party and throw water balloons.

Barker said the family noticed fewer folks decorating boats in line with parade themes, instead just showing up to party. He said that prompted the family to try to take a different approach this year before ultimately deciding to cancel the event altogether.

“In lieu of having a judging stand and a theme this year, we were just going to pass out trophies in the river because folks that came out on the Fourth would decorate their boats in red, white and blue,” Barker said. “But then the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries informed us we couldn’t do that without an approved marine event permit.”

The Barkers took over organizing the annual boat parade 10 years ago from the event’s founder, Lionel Kleinpeter.

Kleinpeter, along with several friends, started a tradition of visiting one another’s piers and party barges each Fourth of July, which eventually led to the annual parade.

As crowds grew, Kleinpeter said, he began brainstorming annual themes. Trophies were awarded to the best-decorated watercrafts, and the event became a parade and family function that generated a lot of publicity for the parish and for False River.

Most themes have been tied to local news controversies like the BP oil spill and the New Orleans’ Saints bounty scandal. But they also have included broader concepts like Looney Tunes cartoons and the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

“It is a little disappointing,” Kleinpeter said Friday of the news of the boat parade’s end. “People just don’t parade anymore, though. I was fortunate, I think, because of the youth of it. People got a kick out of the themes. Now it has just evolved into an anchored-down party.”

Adam Einck, a spokesman with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said the agency requires marine event permits whenever officials feel waterway navigation will be hindered.

In the case of the Fourth of July boat parade, he said, the cluster of boats partying in the south end of the lake has become a cause for concern.

The permit requires organizers to obtain an “adequate” amount of liability insurance. They also are required to provide adequate security patrols to ensure safety.

“The amount of insurance needed is left up to the people running the event,” Einck said. “We just want to make sure event holders would be able to cover damages or losses in case something happens.”

Pointe Coupee Sheriff Bud Torres said there have never been any major incidents at the boat parade.

The Sheriff’s Office and Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have each patrolled False River during the boat parades in the past, Torres said. But given the crowd it attracts now, Torres said, the concerns expressed by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries are understandable.

“As things grow or get bigger, you have to have additional security and precautions,” Torres said. “The Fourth of July is a very busy day on False River. With more than 100 boats out there sometimes, the congestion becomes a problem.”

Barker and Kleinpeter are holding out hope an organization will step in and pick up the reins so the boat parade tradition doesn’t fade into the past.

Barker said the family has already reached out to community groups and they are willing to help with any future boat parades – just in a reduced capacity.

“I don’t think canceling it this year will have any major impact on recreational boaters showing up on the Fourth,” Barker said. “We just think it’s time for someone else to take it. It’s really not set up for just an individual to handle it anymore.”

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