City, parish work to keep Lock on life support

Deidre Cruse, Governmental Reporter
Local officials are working to keep the Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site open on a regular basis.

The City of Plaquemine and the Iberville Parish government are nearing an agreement with the state to keep the Gary J. Hebert Memorial Lockhouse open to the public, Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta told the POST/SOUTH last week.

“We have to,” the mayor said. “It is the crowning jewel of everything we've done on Bayou Plaquemine...It's the best thing we have up there.”

Meanwhile, a steering committee is organizing the Friends of the Lock to assist in staffing the facility, said Charlene Bishop, who is one of the members. The committee will hold its first board meeting at 11 a.m. November 2 at the Iberville Parish Tourist Information office on Church Street.

The Lock's budget fell victim to the state's financial crisis for the second time in two decades. A Friend of the Lock group, the city and Iberville Parks and Recreation District helped keep the historic building open.

Gulotta said he and Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr.  expect to sign an agreement with the state Office of Culture, Recreation and Tourism next month.

“I'm committed, and Mitchell is committed,” he said.

The city will agree to pick up the cost of utilities, cut the grass and assist in maintenance, while the parish will help with maintenance and help staff the Lockhouse for five days a week with parish tourist information personnel, the mayor said. The agreement will run from year to year.

Until the state closed it this summer, the Lockhouse had been closed only one day a year – Christmas Day. The new agreement calls for opening it Wednesday through Saturday of each week.

Already, the city is working to restore power inside the historic building.

“There is no electricity now. The transformer blew up,” the mayor said.

The city is going to buy a new one at a cost of $4,500 for installation by city crews. The lights should be back on in early November.

Gulotta said the state targets the Plaquemine landmark during budget cuts because its “numbers are low.”

“That's not accurate,” he said. “At other state parks, people have to sign in at the gate.”

Unless visitors go inside the Lockhouse on a regular day, he argued, they are not asked to sign in. Hundreds visit the site and go through the Lockhouse during Plaquemine's Fourth of July celebration, the St. Jude Car Show and other downtown events.

The city's newest park, the Bayou Plaquemine Waterfront Park next door to the Lock, was designed to echo and compliment the architecture and grounds of the historic site, the mayor said.

“People don't know where Waterfront Park ends and the lock begins,” he said.