Gulf of Mexico
The new North and South camps at Port Eads, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HIGH ADVENTURE COMPANY

LA - WDSU Investigates: $12 million marina paid for by federal funds sits shuttered

$12 million marina paid for with federal funds sits shuttered, WDSU Investigates who's to blame

PORT EADS, La. —A high-end marina built at the end of Plaquemines Parish, using Louisiana federal tax dollars to fund it, is anything but a sportsman's paradise.

The price tag was over $12 million, and it's now abandoned, leaving many asking questions and others passing the blame.

If you head down the Mississippi River to South Pass in lower Plaquemines Parish the Port Eads Marina starts to appear from miles away.

For many mariners, like Richie Blink, one thing is clear.

"It is shocking and the poster child of government waste, and maybe should have never been built to this scale in the first place," said Blink.

Thirty miles south of Venice, it's only accessible by boat or seaplane, and it's empty.

No people, no boats, and no business.

Blink owns Delta Discovery Tours and uses the river daily.

"Twelve million dollars was spent here to build a first-class marina, but it's still in shambles," said Blink.

That's a far cry from the original plan, according to Blink, who, on top of being an empire-based fishing guide, is also a member of the Plaquemines Parish Council.

WDSU Investigates first reported on this marina and the controversy around it in 2013.

Back then, fishermen had concerns.

"They may never have anyone use it because of where it's at," said fisherman Barry Colligan in 2013.

That's as far down in Louisiana as you can go before you hit the Gulf of Mexico.

A historic old marina, the port was all but destroyed in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina.

Then-parish president Billy Nungesser, who's now the state's lieutenant governor, went to Washington D.C. and got FEMA funding.

The project was finished in 2013.

"They convinced me that was a viable part of the economic engine of the fishing industry for Plaquemines Parish," said Nungesser in 2013.

For a while, that held true.

The marina opened in 2014 and parish leaders hired an Alabama-based company called High Adventure to run it.

The excitement and expectations were high.

"Are you guys confident you'll be able to make ends meet financially to keep the facility running?'' asked WDSU's Travers Mackel in 2013.

"Absolutely, we are 100 percent confident," said a representative of High Adventure.

"Let me tell you, you got 60 slips at 10,000 a year – that's 600,000 dollars," said Nungesser in 2013.

As time passed, the money wasn't there.

There were also dredging issues and boats had problems getting to the marina.

The pandemic hit, hurricanes happened, and after its five-year deal was up, High Adventure didn't renew the contract to run the site and left, meaning the federally funded, multi-million dollar facility is once again vacant.

"We need to be better about the optics of all this, this is terrible optics. I wasn't around when all these decisions were made, but this is just terrible optics on how we use federal disaster relief money," said Blink.

"It's a shame because it's a beautiful facility that brought people all over the world to fish out of Venice, Louisiana," said Nungesser

We tracked him down while he was at a meeting in Lake Charles to ask him, who was to blame for the Port Eads situation, using precious FEMA dollars to pay for something that's not being used.

"There hasn't really been much effort to bring an operator in there or use Plaquemines tourism money to bring in events or host things there," said Nungesser.

Nungesser is long past his days of Plaquemines Parish politics.

But in a few weeks, Plaquemines voters will elect a parish president and some council members, and whoever voters chose will have to deal with Port Eads.

Richie Blink, who isn't seeking re-election to the council to focus on his outdoor business, says something needs to happen soon.

"Who is to blame for something like this?" said Mackel.

"You know it's hard to say - it's just a comedy of errors. I can't just blame one person, efforts were made to go get this money and I'm sure those people stand behind those efforts, but looking back - it really doesn't look good," said Blink.

In a state known as a "sportsman's paradise," this facility is anything but.

We asked all four men running for parish president what they would do with Port Eads, here's what they told WDSU Investigates.


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