Thursday, 27 September 2012 20:00
by Walter Pierce
Nature, interrupted: Lake lovers bummed by airboats
Photo by Kristie Cornell
This is what Lake Martin sounds like when an airboat isn't nearby.
A new group is growing like hydrilla on Facebook in the wake of an increasingly noisy presence at scenic and used-to-be quiet Lake Martin: airboats. The Friends of Lake Martin group was created over the weekend by Breaux Bridge filmmaker Conni Castille and has grown to more than 300 members, many of them nature lovers who seek the quiet solace of Lake Martin’s moss-strewn cypress groves.
The airboat noise that’s causing the stir is complements of Bryan Champagne, the enterprising merchant who last year dropped a snack shack/bait shop right on the bank of the lake — an unwelcome intrusion to the pristine vista of the lake. He has operated Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours for 16 years, which predates the snack shack, but until recently Champagne had employed large, flat-bottom motor boats that, relative to the hurricane-like bluster of an airboat, are relatively quiet. Lake Martin used to be a favorite haunt of canoes and kayaks, but that is changing with the introduction of swamp tours on steroids.
“If you ride [in an airboat] they require that you wear head gear to protect your ears,” says Castille, an award-winning documentarian of South Louisiana culture, “and here we are pretty close to it in a kayak or a canoe, not even in a motorized vessel that could maybe drown out some of it, and he comes pretty close — you experience it.”
Champagne points out that dozens of airboats operated by several tour companies ply Lake Martin’s waters. “There are 50 airboats that operate here,” he says flatly. “Fifty. Five-zero. Do you hear me well? So, what’s the problem?”
Champagne added the airboat to his fleet about four months ago to stay competitive. “People want things to stay the same as they were years ago, you know?" he says. "And I can understand that. But if you don’t go with the changes you gonna get left behind. I hate to say it.”
Champagne says that on Thursday he was visited by the fire marshal and state Department of Environmental Quality officials over anonymous complaints about his business, adding that he suspects the calls may have been made by rival tour operators. It’s a cut-throat business it seems.
Castille posted a downloadable St. Martin Parish Government nuisance complaint form on the Friends of Lake Martin Facebook page, but she says the group is about more than just Champagne’s airboat noise: “It’s for anything — if you see someone feeding the alligators, which some of the tour boat operators do, by the way; if you see someone in the rookery during nesting season,” she explains. “We aren’t just attacking the airboat, but if it is bothering you, you should complain.”
Champagne remains intractable, defiant even: “We got about 50 airboats,” he says, voice rising, “and if it keeps on going I’m going have all 50-plus come here at one frickin’ time and they want to hear some noise, we gonna make some noise.”
Check out the Friends of Lake Martin Facebook page here.
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