No more river tours: City moves houseboat, raft; lease ended

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 21, 2001

David Schaeffer throws his hands up in frustration as he talks about how the city removed boats from his Mississippi River Adventures business Tuesday at City Front. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

[02/21/01] Spring will come without a river tour available in Vicksburg, and the operator said city officials have been heavy-handed in getting him out.

After almost 10 years at City Front, the jet boat of Mississippi River Adventures, owned by David and Peggy Schaeffer, was trailered and moved. Tuesday, the Shaeffers said they found their houseboat and raft removed, too, from the barge they have been leasing from the city.

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“They moved my houseboat and my raft without my permission,” Schaeffer said. “I wasn’t given a deadline to be out of here, so they had no reason to remove my equipment or touch my things.”

Nancy Thomas, city attorney, said there was no deadline for Schaeffer to be out, but that it was assumed he had already removed his things. She said Schaeffer does have a deadline now. He will have until Monday to evacuate the barge.

The tour operator and city officials have tied up before on issues of rental of space and use of city property. Each time, negotiations have resulted in agreements, some involving money and some involving Schaeffer performing work for the city.

Thomas said there was some concern about the Yazoo Canal stages that would make the boats more difficult to move, but wasn’t sure who made the final decision for the street department to begin moving Schaeffer’s property.

“I had to call City Hall and tell them to leave me alone,” Schaeffer said. “They showed no courtesy or respect for my stuff.”

In January, John Boone, owner of South Street Hair Styles, closed his business and left the downtown area because of pressure he said he felt from the city. Boone rented a small space in the Neill Building for 35 years before expansion of city offices took over the building and Schaeffer said he too feels as though he’s being forced out.

The houseboat and raft had been tied behind the barge by separate ropes, but employees of the Street Department moved the boat and raft up to the river bank and tied them side-by-side which could result in damage, Schaeffer said.

The barge Schaeffer was leasing from the city was taken from him on Jan. 22 when he was notified by letter that his renewal of the lease through December 2001 was revoked because the barge was not seaworthy.

The letter states that it came to the city’s attention the barge has not been properly repaired, so the city cannot continue to lease it. The letter also states the city plans to sell the barge to the highest bidder.

Schaeffer said the barge was damaged by a tow operator in 1998. The estimated cost to fix the barge was $10,000 and the city sent a letter asking for that amount from J.O. Smith, owner of Yazoo River Towing, but Smith said the city is supposed to repair the damage and give him the cost of the repairs which, he said, he’d pay.

“The barge owner is required to fix the damages,” Smith said. “They just decided they didn’t want to fix it.

“Marine accidents are handled differently (from cars),” Smith said. “They have to show me exactly what damage my boat caused and how much it cost to fix it. They wanted me to fix the entire boat.”

After the city refused to renew the lease, Schaeffer and his stockholders wrote the city to ask to continue operating and the city agreed if Schaeffer would provide a detailed operating plan.

That, apparently, is where communication broke down.

Back as far as the 1950s, tour boats, including replicas of sternwheelers, have offered excursions from City Front. The Schaeffers’ tour included trips up the Yazoo River to view Fort Hill from gunboat level and downstream into the Mississippi River. The tour included a narration on the role of the river in Vicksburg’s commercial and social history.