VICKSBURG — Kings Point Ferry has suffered four years of being understaffed, but the ferry barge and push boat continues to run 365 days a year.
Since 2008, the ferry has run 12 hours a day as the county has searched for another certified master pilot to drive the vessel.
“We can just do what we can with the manpower we have,” said Warren County road manager Buddy Poole.
The county is required to provide access to the island, which was cut off from the mainland of Warren County by the construction of the Yazoo Diversion Canal, which opened to river traffic in 1903.
Under a 1997 court order, the ferry was required to operate at 15 1/2 hours a day, but the county consistently has had trouble filling the vacancy to keep the ferry open an additional 3-1/2 hours.
“Some of the applicants we got don’t have the full credentials that we need, or they’re wanting way more money than we can offer,” Poole said.
Law limits the amount of work that can be done by a staff of only two pilots, said David Brewer, who pilots the push boat.
“The Coast Guard says we can only work 12 hours a day, and then we have to have 12 hours off,” Brewer said.
Kings Point Island is best known for its luxury hunting camps, but the more than 10,000 acres also produces vast amounts of timber, said Dr. Rahn Sherman of Monroe, La., who lives part-time on the island.
“This thing is not just a rich boy’s play-pretty,” Sherman said of the island.
Three loaded log trucks ran regularly during a recent 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. window. Brewer ferried trucks across 18 times that day.
“I’d say five months out of the three years I’ve been here they’ve not logged, except for the flood,” Brewer said.
The 700-horsepower twin-engine ferry cannot operate when the Mississippi River gets too high, like during the historic flood of 2011. During that time, pilots and deckhands painted the ferry and performed maintenance work on the vessel.
“The county could have laid us off, but they didn’t,” Brewer said. “They chose to preserve the ferry.”
Loggers are regular passengers aboard the ferry, but hunting season brings a major increase in traffic, Brewer said. A typical day during hunting season involves 50 trips.
In 2011, the ferry was closed the first weekend of hunting season because Brewer was injured and the other pilot had worked 11 days straight.
The county has explored alternatives to water-borne transportation to the island that centered on a levee road, but officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told supervisors in December 2008 an on-again, off-again levee project study is short of funding and returned more than $124,000 in matching money the county had paid for the report.
Sherman has been a strong proponent of building the raised levee.
“The road project would have already paid for itself by now,” Sherman said.
Sherman and others who use the island regularly took the county to court in 2008 to extend the ferry’s hours. The legal battle has continued since.
Spending in the Road Department for the ferry, including fuel, is expected to remain around $365,000 this year, Poole said. The current vessel cost a bit more than $600,000 when it was purchased in 2005.