Pushed into service|[10/23/05]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 23, 2005

New boat at Kings Point Ferry being used after old boat gives out; paperwork holds up final blessing from Coast Guard for boat’s use

Confusion between the U.S. Coast Guard and Warren County over seaworthiness of the new Kings Point ferry barge and push boat has added a new chapter in the vessel’s curious history.

Mechanical problems to the old boat hastened its first use last week, according to Warren County Road Department Manager Richard Winans.

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&#8220We put a new engine in the old one, but it had wiring problems. The new one has been running on a temporary basis,” Winans said.

Paperwork problems held up its use since its delivery in June, specifically the proper filing of a certificate of inspection for submission to and subsequent receipt by the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Center a confirmation of the vessel’s seaworthiness, called a stability letter.

Only after that letter of approval can the vessel receive the official blessing of the Coast Guard. Even when documents are filed timely, the process can still take several months.

Additionally, the liability insurance that covers the new boat is not set to take effect until the Coast Guard receives and approves the stability letter.

Winans said the ferry is being operated under a provision in state law that gives counties the authority to operate ferry boats.

Warren County contracted Tensas Machine and Manufacturing of Newellton, La., to build the new vessel for $623,100 in May 2004.

U.S. Coast Guard officials confirm the county applied for a CIO and an initial inspection was completed but still has not been received by the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Center.

&#8220This is not an unusual amount of time for this process, but we are still waiting on the stability letter,” said Lt. Gretchen Bailey, chief of inspections and senior investigative officer at the Guard’s Inspection Office in Baton Rouge.

Winans said the letter was sent in June by Shearer & Associates, a marine architectural firm hired by Tensas Machine and Manufacturing.

Bailey said such documentation must be sent by a governmental entity and the vessel cannot sail until the Marine Safety Center in Washington, D.C. receives the stability letter.

&#8220That is normally the final report establishing the seaworthiness of the boat,” Bailey said.

Bailey and other Coast Guard officials familiar with the process also advise that the Guard’s search-and-rescue missions in Hurricane Katrina have not hampered the certification process.

Hundreds of reservist and active duty transfers from commands around the country have helped the Guard in Katrina missions, thus preserving day-to-day operations such as certifying ferry boats, said Petty Officer Jay Lipinski.

&#8220Any Coast Guard mission in general shouldn’t suffer because of hurricane efforts,” Lipinski said.

During high river stages, the Kings Point Ferry has been the only way to reach Kings Point, area used for farming and hunting, since the Yazoo Diversion Canal was completed in 1903.

In past years, alternatives to operating the free ferry service have ranged from a bridge across the waterway to an building an elevated road in conjunction with a flood control project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Supervisors approved the road study, but neither alternative was ever followed up.

Currently, ferry operations are continuing from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., with hours changing to 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. starting Nov. 1, Winans said.