News & Events for Chesapeake Bay

Contraband Bayou: Safer boating navigational aids installed to guide boaters

Date Posted: 2019-01-08
Source: American Press

Lake Charles, LA -  A public-private partnership has helped make navigation along Contraband Bayou safer for boaters.

More than 30 markers, or private aids to navigation, were installed in late November to alert boaters of cypress stumps or knees that may not be visible above water, but can still cause severe damage to boats or potentially injure boaters.

Ben Garber, with Lake Charles Sail and Power Squadron, said the bayou was once lined with cypress trees, but the dredging of the Calcasieu Ship Channel brought in saltwater, causing the trees to rot and die over time.

Because Contraband Bayou is not a commercially navigable waterway, the Coast Guard or Army Corps of Engineers will not install markers, Garber said. That forced them to take another route in getting the markers installed.

Garber said the effort took about a year of preparation, including depth surveys at low tides and installing plastic pipes to find hazardous areas that needed markers. They also had to get permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard.

Once the permits were obtained, funding was secured through a joint services agreement that involved the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office Marine Division, city of Lake Charles, Calcasieu Police Jury, the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau, the power squadron and Blue Star Marine. He said the Calcasieu Police Jury provided signs for the markers, valued at about $8,000. The other three agencies contributed $7,500 each.

Garber said he and fellow squadron member Harvey Kuttner worked together on the effort. Darrell Walker of Blue Star Marine provided a crane and boat to help with installing the signs, he said.

The markers extend from the Port of Lake Charles docks, to the Olmstead Shipyard near the West Prien Lake Road overpass.

Editor's Note: The story behind this story as provided by Ben Garber

Contraband Bayou got its name from the pirate, Jean Lafitte. Lafitte was known to use the small bayou for safe haven for his ships to hide from hurricanes and storms when traveling the gulf coast.   It was also known for possible buried treasures that were left behind by the pirate.   The bayou was once lined with cypress trees as it led inland from the Calcasieu River.  The bayou was narrow but very deep with many turns and curves.
As Lake Charles began to grow, the Calcasieu River played an important role in business commerce and
industrial expansion.   The Calcasieu River Ship Channel was dredged to a depth of over 40’. This deep water channel allowed large ships to travel into the area for trade and service to industry. While the ship channel was vital to growth in the area, the deep water brought some trouble to the estuary. Salt water intrusion began to impact the vegetation and marshes along the banks. Over time, the banks of the Calcasieu River, that were once lined with Cyprus trees,  are now bare and only show signs of its history through the stumps that line the banks.
With the trees gone, the banks have eroded and the bayou appears to be much wider than before. The open water is deceptive. Just below the water are the eroded banks and stumps that once lined the banks of the bayou. Many of these stumps can be seen at low tide but most at not visible during normal tides in the summer season. This presents a hazard to boaters that travel the bayou.
Today, the bayou is home to many residents and businesses. One of the only fuel stops on the water is located on the bayou at a local marina.  The only shipyard in the area is also located on the bayou. Most local boaters know of the hazards under the water, but new boaters and boaters from out of town have no idea what lies beneath the water.
The Lake Charles Sail & Power Squadron, part of America’s Boating Club, recognized the need to mark the channel for safe passage.   After questioning various agencies, the organization realized that Private Aids to Navigation (PATON) was the only way the bayou could be properly marked. The organization placed temporary plastic pipes along the bayou during a depth survey to help mark the bayou until a permanent solution could be implemented.
The LCSPS applied for a permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to place PATONs in
Contraband Bayou.  The permit was reviewed by the USACE and then handed off to the United States
Coast Guard (USCG) for their evaluation.  The USCG acknowledged that the markers were needed so the
permit process continued unit it was approved and received by the LCSPS.  
Funds were needed for the project.  Pilings and signage are very expensive plus the labor for installation was also a big factor.   The LCSPS is a non-profit organization operating on a very small budget so outside funding would be necessary.    The marina and shipyard offered to contribute but more money would be needed to fund the project. 
Harvey Kuttner and Ben Garber, members of the LCSPS, asked to meet with the City of Lake Charles. 
They were granted a meeting with the city staff and mayor and after presenting the situation, the mayor
agreed to help fund the project.    Kuttner and Garber also met with the Southwest Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau and obtained partial funding from their organization. Finally, the team met with the Calcasieu Parish Sherriff, and he agreed to participate in the project.   
The LCSPS obtained the marker specifications from the USCG and provided this information to the CPPJ.   After some planning, prototype markers were made and were deemed appropriate for the project.   The CPPJ was able to manufacture all of the markers needed for the project.   The City of Lake Charles sign shop also got involved and provided the “No Wake” signs since the entire bayou is a no wake zone.
The next step was to verify the locations of every marker. Confirming the course of navigation as well as the depth, the marks were identified so that the piling company could install the piling for the markers. Walks on Water, a local marine contractor, was the low bidder and agreed to install the pilings. LCSPS members provided assistance to ensure the locations were accurate. Once the piling were installed, it was time to install the PATONs.
The LCSPS then contacted Blue Star Marine. Owner, Darrel Walker (also past commander of the LCSPS) agreed to provide the vessel and labor to install the PATONs. Walker built a work cage that could be used with the installation.  Together with the vessel, equipment, staff of Blue Star Marine and LCSPS volunteers, the markers were all successfully and professionally installed.
Today, Contraband Bayou is safe to navigate using the PATONs that were installed. The location of the markers have been documented and turned into NOAA so that the nautical charts will reflect the aids to navigation.   Thanks to the determination of LCSPS and the partnership that was developed between the public and private agencies, Contraband Bayou well is marked for navigation and safer for boating.

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