County trying to cut costs with ferry

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Moves aimed at trimming costs in Warren County government are extending to the Kings Point Ferry, an area where legal maneuvers to shorten operating hours continue.

Supervisors also directed their attorney to inquire about a new certificate from the U.S. Coast Guard to allow a qualified operator to manage the ferry across the Yazoo Diversion Canal instead of a certified master pilot. An operator could be paid less than a pilot.

Board President Richard George said such a designation in future hires would command only a third of the $31,200 annual salary paid to licensed operators and make hiring easier.

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“We just need to know if we can do it,” George said, adding the county is less likely to hire experienced, certified vessel pilots than large, commercial shipping industries. Supervisors have been advertising for pilots for about a month.

As the board met Monday, supervisors discussed the request it filed in November for permanent injunctive relief from a 1997 court order stating the ferry must run 15 hours a day. Principals in M&M Property, LP, a land-owning group on Kings Point Island, filed suit in August after the county reduced hours to 12 following an illness of one of three certified pilots who work on the boat.

A settlement was reached in that case, but the board decided to seek a lifting of the order after a pilot quit in November. In its initial brief, the county claimed rising costs, reduced farming activity on Kings Point Island, staffing challenges, sporadic use of the ferry overall has affected how often the ferry should run. A response filed Friday by the land-owning group challenged those arguments and demanded strict proof. The matter is before 9th Chancery District Judge Vicki Roach Barnes.

The board has indicated some type of seasonal operability is possible if the county receives a favorable ruling, with a schedule likely to coincide with deer hunting season. Daily trips across the canal reach its peak of about 100 during the December-January season, Road Manager Richard Winans said.

The island was cut off from the mainland of Warren County when the Yazoo Diversion Canal was dug in 1903 and floods easily during high stages on the Mississippi River. Hunting and tree farming have dominated the area in recent years.

Spending in the Road Department for the ferry was to run about $365,000, including fuel, according to this year’s budget. Spending in the past decade has reached more than $3 million, according to the county’s filing in the current chancery case.

Alternatives to the water-borne vessel, which cost $600,000 when it was purchased in 2005, have centered on a 10-mile levee across the canal with a road atop it for vehicular access. A plan drafted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2001 estimated such a project at $8 million. In 2007, the board again supported the Corps in principle on the idea, but, so far, no additional steps have been taken.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at