County OKs deal for ferry at Kings Point

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 25, 2004

[5/25/04]Unless more problems arise, a new ferry to Kings Point could be in service next summer.

Meanwhile, service using the old boat and barge will likely be interrupted in June at a time important to farmers.

Warren County supervisors agreed Monday to pay Tensas Machine and Manufacturing of Newellton a total of $623,100 for a new 65-foot barge and 35-foot boat to push the barge back and forth across the Yazoo Diversion Canal.

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Kings Point, west of downtown Vicksburg, was isolated when the canal was dug a century ago, and private landowners there have been served by a public ferry since.

Tensas won the contract in a fifth round of bids. Previous, problem-laden bid periods started in 2002.

The contract specifies the company has up to 10 weeks to order and receive the steel. It then has 220 days to construct the barge and 250 days to build the boat.

Also Monday, supervisors said the ferry will have to be taken out of service in June for a U.S. Coast Guard inspection of several days to several weeks.

Raymond May, an owner of farmland on Kings Point, asked what provisions the board has made if the ferry is out of service for an extended period of time.

Rains have delayed planting, he said, and if the ferry is out of service in early June, planting will be delayed more.

“If you could get the Coast Guard to delay it until August or September, that would be fine,” May said. Kings Point can be reached by land, but only when the Mississippi River is at about 18 feet on the Vicksburg gauge.

Board members said the ferry is already operating under one extension and the Coast Guard is unlikely to grant another.

May then asked if the board had considered leasing a barge as a temporary replacement.

“We could probably get by with ferry service every second or third day,” May said.

He got no answer.

Also bidding were Big River Shipbuilders of Vicksburg, which had made a previous offer, and Lynn’s Welding Shop of Vicksburg, which offered on the boat only. The newest bids were the highest yet, up more than $100,000 from earlier this year.

Tensas bid $281,000 for the barge and $312,500 for the boat. With a contingency reserve, the total cost for the barge will be $295,000 and $328,100. Big River’s last bid was $662,000.

Warren County has $500,000 in federal funds through the MDOT State Aid Division for the project and just came up with the $123,100 difference.

In previous rounds, questions about specifications were so numerous no bids were accepted. In the second round, no bids were received.

The third attempt resulted in supervisors having to reject bids due to legal defects in the offers. The fourth time, in February, the board awarded a contract for the boat and barge to Big River, but the company balked due to rapid steel price increases and the contract was canceled.

Road Manager Richard Winans said the barge will be placed in dry dock for inspection by the Coast Guard between June 5 and June 8. The time it is out of service depends on what inspectors find. Supervisors voted to notify all landowners on Kings Point when the ferry will be out of service.

At May’s suggestion, the Army Corps of Engineers has been studying a project that could lead to year-around or nearly year-around access to Kings Point and reduce backwater flooding elsewhere.

The project has merit, the Corps says, but is several years in the future and would require local matching funds. The county budgets about $230,000 per year for ferry operations.