Amite River near Watson

Aerial view of the Amite River at Watson

The Livingston Parish Council formally introduced an ordinance regarding river safety following a tumultuous summer on the Amite River, during which two people died and dozens more had to be rescued.

A public hearing on the matter is set for Oct. 14.

The tentative ordinance, which council members said will likely be amended over time, includes stipulations such as safety videos, life vests, increased signage on the river, and possible punishments for violations.

The introduction during Thursday’s regular council meeting came two days after the ordinance committee met to finalize details on the possible requirements.

“To start with not really a whole lot of data and to develop such a well written ordinance that I think will protect future people that tube down that river, I think y’all did an exceptional job,” said council member Shane Mack.

“That last (ordinance) meeting was so sincere,” Mack added. “Everyone was trying to do what they could to protect the people and it was really a good moment.”

Though talked about for years, regulations regarding water safety are moving closer to becoming a reality in the wake of several incidents on the Amite River, mostly after people launched from Tiki Tubing.

Keith Hillard, 53, died after going underwater shortly after launching from Tiki Tubing on June 19. A little more than one month later, 52-year-old Elson Johnson, Jr., of Deville, also drowned after his launch.

In between the two deadly accidents, first responders rescued 15 people from the Amite River after “strong currents” stranded tubers during a weekend in mid-July. Later that month, nearly a dozen more had to be rescued.

The survivors of Hilliard have been vocal advocates for increased river safety.

Though much of the attention has been on Tiki Tubing, council members have repeatedly stated that the company “isn’t the only facility that uses the river” and that an ordinance has to be “more encompassing… to address all problems, not just one particular issue.”

“We’re trying to take into account everything that could be happening with the river,” Garry Talbert, chairman of the council, said recently. “We’re trying to address them all at one time.”

With tubing season officially over, council members have said their goal is to have an ordinance in place before the next tubing season begins.

According to the ordinance that was introduced, businesses would have to present a water safety training video “pertinent to the area of business before collecting payment for services from customers.” Council members said they will have to determine what must be in the video in the future.

“We’ll have to give them some guidelines as to what the video has to say,” said Council member Tracy Girlinghouse, who is chairman of the ordinance committee, “to educate the people who are going to get on the river.”

The ordinance would also increase signage along waterways, with specifications regarding the signs themselves, such as:

-- Reflective signs with white reflective markings

-- 3-inch lettering on both front and back of signs

-- Signage should be placed on both sides of the river

To help first responders in the event of an emergency, location markers would be placed every one-tenth of a mile and labeled.

Businesses would also be required to provide anyone entering the waterway “with United States Coast Guard approved life vest or floatation devices,” though who will be required to wear one has yet to be determined.

If the ordinance passes, violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and a possible $500 fine.

The ordinance would not apply to privately-owned boat launches, it states.

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