Rain puts ferry work on hold

The band of weather that freight-trained across South Mississippi on Thursday and Friday inflicted some inconvenience on the folks getting the ferry ready for Bay St. Louis.

"It's Murphy's Law when you're under the gun, a few more things have to jump out there to make a step or two harder," said Greg Brown, vice president of marine operations for Hornblower Marine Services.

The ferry is in Bayou La Batre, Ala., finishing up refurbishment work. It's scheduled to make the transit on Monday afternoon.

Hornblower bought the boat from Steiner Shipyard, which had purchased it from the North Carolina Department of Transportation before Katrina. It originally operated with ramps that dropped down from the land-side to load the cars.

It's been fitted with hydraulic ramps, had its engines rebuilt, rudders redone and other work completed, according to Brown. The rain put the repainting on hold, but it was about 70 percent complete Friday morning.

The Coast Guard has been checking systems as they've been installed, but there are operational sea trials planned for Monday morning.

"For the first time, everything will be turned on at the same time," Brown said. "The ship's crew will be on there and do drills and fire drills and prove the operation of the boat, the final step before they issue the paperwork."

He said some of the interior remodeling would be complete while the vessel was in operation.

Hornblower won a seven-month contract that is estimated at $5 million to provide ferry service until the new U.S. 90 bridge over the bay is completed. Two lanes are scheduled to reopen in May.

Brown said they will start operating 12 hours a day, with the ferry departing every 45 minutes. He said they hoped to whittle time off that mark, though, aiming to get down to 30-minute trips.

"If we can add value to the service by providing more service, we are certainly motivated to do so," Brown said. "There's not a savings by not doing it."