Deal near? Industry players, Mississippi River pilot board negotiate over curfew

Local News

BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — South Louisiana business leaders suggest a months-old dispute between industrial leaders and Mississippi River pilots may end within the week.

The tensions stem from the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association board of examiners’ nighttime curfew on vessels. The board imposed the restriction last April, as river levels rose, citing safety concerns.

“Mother Nature doesn’t always go along with the playbook,” . “You can’t compromise safety, and you can’t put a price tag on it.”

Baton Rouge’s top commerce players have claimed restrictions are limiting how many goods they can ship each day. Several of them have written to Gov. John Bel Edwards — whose office oversees NOBRA board appointments — urging him to intervene.

“These restrictions are dramatically increasing costs and threaten planned projects, daily operations and jobs for thousands of workers,” Baton Rouge Area Chamber CEO Adam Knapp wrote in a letter to Edwards on Jan. 29. “NOBRA pilots seem to indiscriminately and arbitrarily have the authority to close Louisiana to business and commerce, impacting our agricultural, petrochemical and refining industries.”

“Unexplained restrictions on river vessel traffic without validation from the U.S. Coast Guard or other experts is very disturbing,” wrote Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association president Tyler Gray in a Feb. 3 letter to Edwards and NOBRA board members. “The river is a critical means of transportation for massive amounts of products produced in Louisiana and a large portion of the United States.”

Knapp planned a news conference Tuesday afternoon to discuss the dispute, though minutes before its scheduled start, he cancelled, claiming agreement was near.

Knapp would not elaborate on whether a deal would end or retain the curfew for NOBRA pilots.

NOBRA board of examiners president Robert Heitmeier did not immediately return’s inquiries following Knapp’s cancellation Tuesday afternoon, though he did seem optimistic hours earlier.

“I think people know safety is the priority,” Heitmeier said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “There’s no disagreement on what the goal is here.”

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