Gary Hebert’s battle to save Plaquemine Lock well documented by his widow, Joyce Hebert

TOMMY COMEAUX tcomeaux@postsouth.com
The Plaquemine Lock and its lockhouse as seen from the west.

“Lovingly compiled in memory of (the late) Gary J. Hebert,” begins a testament to his battle against the State of Louisiana and many of the people of Plaquemine to save the Plaquemine Lock.

The three-inch-thick binder containing narratives and copies of newspaper articles and editorials collected by Joyce Hebert is among the scores of historic items inside the lockhouse which now serves as a museum.

Currently a state commemorative area, the lockhouse is a monument to a successful battle to save it and its bayou, a long and arduous task for Hebert, a now beloved newspaper publisher.

“His dedication and service to the Plaquemine Lock and his community was nationally acclaimed,” his widow continues in the book’s preface. “His love of family and generosity remain his legacies.”

“Gary began his fight in 1964 after a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public hearing on the closing of the Plaquemine Lock,” the dedication reads.

“Following the hearing, he wrote (in an editorial), ‘We oppose strongly and vehemently any modification of the Lock structure which would close it to navigation,’” Joyce Hebert’s testament to her late husband’s achievement.

“Secondly, we also oppose, just as vehemently, extension of the four-lane highway through the downtown Plaquemine area,” the dedication continues.

The Department of Highways had already widened La. 1 from Port Allen to Plaquemine to a four-lane highway and the narrowing to two lanes near the lock created traffic jams in the afternoons, mainly caused by the ever-expanding chain of chemical plants along the Mississippi River.

By 1970, Hebert had formed Save Bayou Plaquemine Inc., an organization dedicated to his cause of keeping the lock open and operational and the bayou’s waters flowing.

He later invited the dean of LSU’s School of Environmental Design, Gerald J. McLindon, to speak to the Iberville Chamber of Commerce in an effort to further his plan.

“McLindon told the members at the time that Bayou Plaquemine was one of the natural beauty spots of Plaquemine and should never be destroyed,” Joyce Hebert wrote.

The LSU dean also offered an alternative, “one that would preserve the bayou and lock area as an historic site and an environment tourist asset to the city.”

According to Joyce Hebert’s documentation, officials with the state Department of Highways, today’s Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), announced, “their job was to move traffic and not to save historical buildings.”

Driven by determination, Gary Hebert formed the Citizens Committee for Bayou Plaquemine, Joyce wrote, and got 300 signatures on a petition opposing the filling in of the bayou.

And he continued to fight, writing to the state’s governor, Plaquemine’s state senator and representative, its U.S. congressmen, state and federal agencies, pleading for his cause.

By now a respected and well known newspaper publisher, Hebert also engaged the help of the Louisiana Department of Art, Historical and Cultural Preservation, the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation as well as newspapers across the state.

Articles began to appear in the Baton Rouge State Times and Morning Advocate, the New Orleans Times Picayune and States Item, the Shreveport Times and his own newspaper, the Plaquemine Post. Hebert would later buy a competing newspaper, the Iberville South, to create the Plaquemine Post South.

Joyce Hebert said he began receiving letters of support and others criticizing his efforts to save the lock and the bayou.

One by Alma Edley was particularly pointed – and almost poetic – in its criticism.

“Poor little Evangeline is the cause of all the protest to fill a section of Bayou Plaquemine for a four-lane roadbed needed so badly,” Edley wrote, referring to the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow work “Evangeline, a Tale of Acadie.”

Every year, the City of Plaquemine celebrates the poem with a festival that includes a reenactment of the fictional character and her reunion with her lover, from whom she had been separated from during the expulsion of the Acadian people, or Cajuns, to south Louisiana.

Part of the Acadian Festival, set for later this month, is the ceremonial arrival of Evangeline to the city via Bayou Plaquemine.

“There is a bottleneck now almost to Brusly after 3:30 p.m.,” Edley’s complaint continues. “I know this editor (Hebert) personally. He once was sincere, conscientious and considerate. Success has changed that.”

“The (state) money is appropriated,” she continues. “Evangeline won’t mind meeting her ‘lover’ a little farther down the bayou.”

“Gary didn’t let the criticism dissuade him from his fight,” Joyce Hebert’s tribute to her late husband continues.

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a multi-part series on the late Gary Hebert’s successful battle to save the Plaquemine Lock and prevent the State of Louisiana from destroying the lockhouse to construct a four-lane highway through the city. While he was opposed to the highway as well, the state finally conceded on the lock and changed its plans to locate the widened La. 1 to its current location.)

Gary Hebert’s battle to save Plaquemine Lock well documented by his widow

TOMMY COMEAUX

tcomeaux@postsouth.com

“Lovingly compiled in memory of (the late) Gary J. Hebert,” begins a testament to his battle against the State of Louisiana and many of the people of Plaquemine to save the Plaquemine Lock.

The three-inch-thick binder containing narratives and copies of newspaper articles and editorials collected by Joyce Hebert is among the scores of historic items inside the lockhouse which now serves as a museum.

Currently a state commemorative area, the lockhouse is a monument to a successful battle to save it and its bayou, a long and arduous task for Hebert, a now beloved newspaper publisher.

“His dedication and service to the Plaquemine Lock and his community was nationally acclaimed,” his widow continues in the book’s preface. “His love of family and generosity remain his legacies.”

“Gary began his fight in 1964 after a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers public hearing on the closing of the Plaquemine Lock,” the dedication reads.

“Following the hearing, he wrote (in an editorial), ‘We oppose strongly and vehemently any modification of the Lock structure which would close it to navigation,’” Joyce Hebert’s testament to her late husband’s achievement.

“Secondly, we also oppose, just as vehemently, extension of the four-lane highway through the downtown Plaquemine area,” the dedication continues.

The Department of Highways had already widened La. 1 from Port Allen to Plaquemine to a four-lane highway and the narrowing to two lanes near the lock created traffic jams in the afternoons, mainly caused by the ever-expanding chain of chemical plants along the Mississippi River.

By 1970, Hebert had formed Save Bayou Plaquemine Inc., an organization dedicated to his cause of keeping the lock open and operational and the bayou’s waters flowing.

He later invited the dean of LSU’s School of Environmental Design, Gerald J. McLindon, to speak to the Iberville Chamber of Commerce in an effort to further his plan.

“McLindon told the members at the time that Bayou Plaquemine was one of the natural beauty spots of Plaquemine and should never be destroyed,” Joyce Hebert wrote.

The LSU dean also offered an alternative, “one that would preserve the bayou and lock area as an historic site and an environment tourist asset to the city.”

According to Joyce Hebert’s documentation, officials with the state Department of Highways, today’s Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), announced, “their job was to move traffic and not to save historical buildings.”

Driven by determination, Gary Hebert formed the Citizens Committee for Bayou Plaquemine, Joyce wrote, and got 300 signatures on a petition opposing the filling in of the bayou.

And he continued to fight, writing to the state’s governor, Plaquemine’s state senator and representative, its U.S. congressmen, state and federal agencies, pleading for his cause.

By now a respected and well known newspaper publisher, Hebert also engaged the help of the Louisiana Department of Art, Historical and Cultural Preservation, the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation as well as newspapers across the state.

Articles began to appear in the Baton Rouge State Times and Morning Advocate, the New Orleans Times Picayune and States Item, the Shreveport Times and his own newspaper, the Plaquemine Post. Hebert would later buy a competing newspaper, the Iberville South, to create the Plaquemine Post South.

Joyce Hebert said he began receiving letters of support and others criticizing his efforts to save the lock and the bayou.

One by Alma Edley was particularly pointed – and almost poetic – in its criticism.

“Poor little Evangeline is the cause of all the protest to fill a section of Bayou Plaquemine for a four-lane roadbed needed so badly,” Edley wrote, referring to the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow work “Evangeline, a Tale of Acadie.”

Every year, the City of Plaquemine celebrates the poem with a festival that includes a reenactment of the fictional character and her reunion with her lover, from whom she had been separated from during the expulsion of the Acadian people, or Cajuns, to south Louisiana.

Part of the Acadian Festival, set for later this month, is the ceremonial arrival of Evangeline to the city via Bayou Plaquemine.

“There is a bottleneck now almost to Brusly after 3:30 p.m.,” Edley’s complaint continues. “I know this editor (Hebert) personally. He once was sincere, conscientious and considerate. Success has changed that.”

“The (state) money is appropriated,” she continues. “Evangeline won’t mind meeting her ‘lover’ a little farther down the bayou.”

“Gary didn’t let the criticism dissuade him from his fight,” Joyce Hebert’s tribute to her late husband continues.

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a multi-part series on the late Gary Hebert’s successful battle to save the Plaquemine Lock and prevent the State of Louisiana from destroying the lockhouse to construct a four-lane highway through the city. While he was opposed to the highway as well, the state finally conceded on the lock and changed its plans to locate the widened La. 1 to its current location.)