Local officials stress keeping Lock site open permanently
Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. and Plaquemine Mayor Mark “Tony” Gulotta made a point during their speeches at last Friday’s Reopening Ceremonies at the Plaquemine Lock that they will do anything in their power to keep the historic park site open.
Both the parish and the city have agreed to provide most of the services needed to keep the lock site open. Also a new Friends of the Lock Group has been organized to help staff the facility.
State Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Office of State Parks Assistant Secretary Dr. Stuart Johnson, and Park Ranger Stan Richardson were on hand for the ceremonies. Also the state had historic characters in period dress to liven up the event.
Many members of the Friends of the Lock Group, parish and city officials, and Evangeline and International Acadian Festival Queen Maddie Bahry attended the ceremonies; and the Plaquemine High School JROTC Color Guard presented the flag. Former State Lt. Gov. Bobby Freeman, a supporter of the establishment of the historic park, and Louis Favaron, one of the first volunteers at the lockhouse museum, were introduced to the audience.
Lt. Govenor Dardenne told the audience that he had been to the Plaquemine Lock many times as a youth, visiting family in the city. Dardenne explained that his father was from Plaquemine.
Parish President Ourso also spoke about family. He said while during research for his speech at the event, he discovered that members of his family had worked at the lock.
Both Ourso and Mayor Gulotta mentioned the efforts and dedication of the late Gary J. Hebert to making the lock a state historic site. Hebert, the longtime owner and publisher of the POST SOUTH, spent a number of years stressing the importance of preserving the lock for historic reasons. He campaigned to prevent the destruction of the lock by the Corps of Engineers and enabled it to be preserved as a historic site.
The facility was designed by Col. George Goethals, who also was the engineer and constructor of the Panama Canal. The facility had the highest freshwater lift of any lock in the world (51 feet). It was operated from 1909 to 1961 when it was replaced by a larger set of locks in Port Allen, which remains in use. By 1972 the lock was placed on the National Register of Historic Places; and, later, the Gary James Hebert Memorial Lockhouse became a museum and visitors’ center.
Joyce Hebert, wife of the late Gary J. Hebert, cut the ribbon at the end of reopening ceremonies. She also is president of the Friends of the Lock Group. She was accompanied by her daughter Ellie Hebert and son John Hebert.
Invocation was provided by Father Cleo Milano of St. John The Evangelist Catholic Church, while the Rev. Stephen Fleming of the First United Methodist Church gave the Benediction.
Belinda Buquoi sang the Star Spangled Banner and Joe Guilbeau provided pre-ceremony entertainment.