LOCKSITE THREAT: Plaquemine showpiece facing new state threat

Deidre Cruse
The Gary J. Hebert Lockhouse, a centerpiece of the Plauqemine Lock State Commemorative site, will be open Saturday for the 100th anniversary celebration of the historic landmark.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed budget includes deep cuts for the Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site, a move local leaders fear will hurt tourism and business downtown.

The governor’s budget calls for cuts to the Lock and 15 other historic sites around the state, including cutting their hours back to two days a week (Fridays and Saturdays), and cutting 51 of the 423 Civil Service workers who staff them, according to the Office of State Parks.

It costs the state $2.2 million a year to fund all 16 sites fully. Under the governor’s proposal, the Lock’s current budget of $157,375 would be cut by $99,884, and three of four of its employees would be laid off, Assistant Secretary of State Parks Stuart Johnson told the POST/SOUTH.

“We will have to let some employees go,” he said. “It will be a skeletal staff.”

Fry Hymel, president of the Iberville Museum’s Board of Directors, last week asked the Plaquemine Board of Selectmen to lobby to keep the Lock open on its current seven-day-a-week schedule, as its closure would affect the Museum, the Depot Market and other local businesses.

“I ask you to lobby for tourism,” Hymel said.

“I’ll be glad to send out that letter,” Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta said. He recalled that when the state closed the Lock in an austerity move in the 1990s, the city stepped in with financial help to keep it open, and volunteers kept it staffed.

Johnson said Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu is mounting a campaign to restore state funding not only to the state historic sites, but for art and tourism programs, which also face severe cuts in the governor’s budget.

“They are all economic engines that return funding to the state,” the assistant secretary said. “They affect the economy.”

People who visit the lock, he said, also might visit the museum, go to lunch and visit a couple of shops in Plaquemine before they leave town.

A 2005 study by a consortium of universities of the economic impact of state parks, including historic sties, showed a 3.23 percent return on every dollar invested by the state. The study showed the parks brought $41.1 million in direct primary spending in the state, and further that park visitors spent $12 million in Louisiana which ultimately meant a $24 million impact on the state.

Johnson said an older 1999 study specifically of historic sites showed a 7.3 percent return on each state dollar invested.

“There is support to keep the historic sites open,” said Sharon Broussard, public information officer for the Office of State Parks. “We feel confident that the budget will be amended.”

Both she and Johnson said the funding now is in the hands of theLegislature.

“We definitely want to see what can be done to restore funding,” Johnson said. “To have that happen, we have to get the legislators to put it back in the budget.”