Local officials bid to keep Lock open

Tryve Brackin
Local officials are working to keep the Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site open on a regular basis.

Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. and Plaquemine Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta are scheduled to meet today (Thursday) at the Courthouse with the state Office of Tourism to offer local help to keep the Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site open to the public.

Because of state budget cuts, the Gary J. Hebert Memorial Lockhouse is open by appointment only, Gulotta said.

“We want to see what we can do to keep the locks open,” Ourso said. “We will try to help them with some in-kind [services]. He hate for the state to shut it down. That kind of thing means a lot to a lot of people in this parish.”

The mayor said the city has been helping with maintenance work for the past four or five months, and over the past month did major work cleaning up trees and overgrown flowerbeds.

“We have all that pretty landscaping the city just put in by the church, and the state park looks like it's been abandoned for five years,” Gulotta said.

Although the Lock is Plaquemine's major landmark, the state, in justifying the cut, claimed the number of visitors was low, the mayor said. He said the site kept track only of visitors to the Lockhouse, and not of the visitors to the grounds.

The Lock grounds are used as part of Plaquemine's Fourth of July festival and other city events at neighboring Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park.

“We're talking $50,000 to keep the Plaquemine Lock operational for a year,” Gulotta said.

He said the city would be able to help with grass cutting, maintenance and utilities, and there is discussion of using parish tourism personnel to staff the Lockhouse.

Ourso said he had been surprised to learn that the Lockhouse had been closed for only one day a year. He hopes for an arrangement to keep the building open five days a week, possibly with Monday and Tuesday closures.

“They cut and expect you to pick up everything after them,” the parish president said. He said he wants to work out a way to keep the landmark open until the state can resume its operation.

“We don't want the state to say this will be forever,” he said.

Gulotta said when he took office in 1992; a group of very dedicated volunteers were keeping the Lockhouse open to the public during an early period of state financial crisis.

Several years later, the state resumed, and improved, the operation. Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed to cut funding for the Lock and other state historic sites last year. The Legislature restored the funds for the last fiscal year, but not for this one.

“We definitely want to try to keep it open, whatever it takes,” Gulotta said.

“Between the two of us, I'm sure we can make something happen,” Ourso said.