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The water creeps up the giant BATON ROUGE letters on the Mississippi River levee as elevated water levels move downriver Feb. 3 in Baton Rouge.

A nearly year-long night time travel ban for river pilots on a stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans was lifted at 5 p.m. on Friday.

The restriction to daylight travel was imposed in April 2019 as a high-water and fast-current safety measure, stemming from New Orleans Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association, according to Louisiana Maritime Association advisories.

Lifting the ban is a relief for companies with 24-hour operations such as ExxonMobil, which was critical of the restriction and said that it made it difficult for the company to compete on a global stage.

Industry advocates have been pressuring local river pilots' board members for months to reverse the ban on night time shipments and appealed to the state for help. 

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber appealed to Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature earlier this week to take action regarding the issue, which was compounded by the fact that the restriction only applied to the Baton Rouge section of the river and didn’t impact New Orleans.

State Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, discussed the issue briefly during the state's budget committee hearing. White promised to consider penning legislation to restrict the powers of the NOBRA Board of Examiners, if necessary. 

“BRAC is pleased to hear that the Mississippi River is again fully open for business,” CEO Adam Knapp said. 

Knapp said that it was important for manufacturing and agricultural businesses to have certainty that they will have access to the river at all times.  

"This brings to a conclusion a frustratingly long period of ‘daylight only’ commerce where the Baton Rouge stretch of the river was affected," Knapp said. "We look forward to legislative oversight of the river pilots’ actions in the future to try to ensure this can’t happen this way ever again.”

"The NOBRA Board of Examiner’s decision to lift the daylight only restrictions on the Mississippi River is a win for the Capital Region’s maritime commerce," ExxonMobil said in a statement. "Safety for all working in and alongside the Mississippi River is a top priority for industry and businesses in our community."

"Going forward, a collaborative initiative amongst all stakeholders to set forth regulations that will promote safe and predictable working conditions will help maintain competitive levels of productivity for our state’s manufacturing facilities. Our region’s viability in the global economy depends on it," the company said.

"If there's no other caveat on it, it opens the Mississippi River and I think everyone in industry feels good about that," said Greg Bowser, head of the Louisiana Chemical Association. "I think that there needs to be clear, concise guidelines, and if there are restrictions on the river everyone knows what they are so you can plan for it and it's not arbitrary or constantly changing," Bowser said. "That's probably the best scenario."

Tyler Gray, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, who had also pushed for political help, said that the news of the night time ban being lifted was a relief.

"It allows us to get back to doing what we do best," Gray said about the energy industry.

In late April 2019, the New Orleans Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association board of examiners, which consists of three members, voted to enforce restrictions for river pilots navigating the Mississippi River to only daylight hours, citing safety concerns amid high and swift water.

Capt. Robert Heitmeier is the top executive who decided alongside two fellow board members, to restrict access last year and not lift it until this week.

Heitmeier did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

Heitmeier previously said the biggest fear he and his fellow board members have is that an out of control ship would scrape or, even worse, punch a hole through a water-saturated levee wall.

Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.