Frustrated Norwalk officials wonder why they are ignored by city

Norwalk Harbor Management Commission Chairman Tony D’Andrea speaks at Wednesday’s meeting.



By Nancy Guenther Chapman

NORWALK, Conn. – A group of Norwalk appointed “experts” wonders why no one in the city listens to them, a situation that could have resulted in deaths, they say.

“We’re not here on a witch hunt, we’re just here to speak what the truth is,” said Tony D’Andrea as he opened Wednesday’s meeting of the Harbor Commission. The chairman went on to comment that he is a “willful man willing to sacrifice” to get something done, in danger of “losing teeth” because he is holding on so tight.

The “truth” concerns a situation that came to a head as Hurricane Sandy came in on Oct. 29. Commission members had been warning Department of Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mocciae and others that the Island Belle, a Mississippi-style river boat, was too big for the dock at Veteran’s Park. With a 70 to 80 mph wind blowing, commission members, Norwalk police officers and firefighters from both Norwalk and Wilton tried to reposition the boat so it would be facing the wind instead of taking the brunt of the gale broadside.

Pilings were smashed. The boat broke free, taking the dock’s pumping station with it and pulling the dock apart. Officer John Taranto was at the helm of the three-story high vessel as it drifted across the harbor, yards from the Stroffolino Bridge. Wilton divers were ready to perform a rescue if needed, but the boat struck the west side of the harbor with little damage.

D’Andrea and other commission members are not gloating about being vindicated. “We’re here to speak to what we suggested as a learned body of harbor appointed experts,” he said. “We’re here to speak to why we ask what the dock is going to be used for, why we asked what type of vessel should be on the dock, why we asked what the berthing distance of the vessel is from the federal channel. Why we were turned down by the city when we asked these questions. We asked, nobody answered. The dock failed. There could have been some loss of life.”

They are also wondering why no one is asking for their opinion now as the dock is rebuilt.

“If we don’t try to bring this into compliance with the bare minimum of safety regulations that exist we are doomed for failure,” said D’Andrea, who was ordered off the dock by firefighters during the Oct. 29 operation as he was suffering from chest pains. “This is not an ‘I told you so,’ this is ‘please listen to us. We are trying to help.’ I am hopeful, I am cautiously optimistic, that the city fathers that are involved with the rebuilding of this situation will invite us to the table and ask us what we think. To this date we haven’t been contacted. Not a ‘thank you, ‘not a ‘by your leave,’ not ‘thank you for risking your life,’ nothing, (to) the commission or any individual.”

D’Andrea began the discussion by handing out a November 2011 letter from Joseph Schachter, whose former company, Concrete Floation Systems, installed the dock in the mid-’80s. Schachter warned of a “dangerous domino effect” if the pilings let go with the oversized-boat at the dock during a gale-force wind.

D’Andrea said the letter had been handed to Mocciae and ignored. Commission member John Pinto, Ph. D., later wondered, “Why the obstinate behavior on behalf of the administration to disassociate themselves with the harbor management commission with what we have done in the past to control the harbor?”

D’Andrea said Mocciae does not return his phone calls. D’Andrea says he now contacts Council member Jerry Petrini (R-District D), chairman of the Parks and Recreation Committee.

Mocciae said by email that he doesn’t answer to the commission, he answers to the mayor and works with the Parks and Recreation Committee. “The Harbor Commission is under the Department of Planning and Zoning, though we welcome any ideas the commission conveys,” he said.

Mocciae said that he hasn’t gotten any phone calls or emails from the Harbor Management Commission. “I speak with my chair (Petrini) at least once a week and he has never mentioned anything regarding conversations with the Harbor Commission and/or any members trying to contact me,” he said.  (The rest of his comments are published in a separate story below.)

Petrini did not return a request for comment.

Harbor Master Mike Griffin said at the meeting that new pilings had been ordered, though he had not been consulted. D’Andrea said the commission would ordinarily be asked, as a permit is needed, but under the emergency circumstances that is understandable.

“We’re all going to wake up one day and find the piles have been driven and the dock is being put back together,” Griffin said.

D’Andrea said the commission should be informed. “We should understand how the taxpayer dollars are being spent,” D’Andrea said. “As we do with any other dock, rowboat or pier that is in this city, we should have some say in how it is being done.”

He is skeptical of the dock. “They’re going to be installing a dock system that is 25 years old,” he said. “That, in the learned opinion of many dock builders that do this for a living, has 18 months to two years more in it. We are investing money to redrive pilings and install a system that only has another year, year and half of life – it’s already listing at 15 degrees. It is not a decision that I was part of, nor was I asked any questions, nor was anybody on this commission that has the right to chime in on anything below the high water line.”

Schachter said in his letter that the dock seems to “be functioning as originally intended well over 25 years later.”

“I do not know where they got their 20 years from,” Mocciae said. “I have pickup trucks in the department that are older than the docks that still run. We will be operational for spring with the same amenities we have offered in the past.”



8 responses to “Frustrated Norwalk officials wonder why they are ignored by city”

  1. Diane C2

    Four words for Chairman D’Andrea: “welcome to the club….”

    and a few more: perhaps people will understand now what it’s like for residents who have concerns and are ignored or dismissed; or neighborhood associations and leaders who never get contacted when major proposals for their areas are under consideration. The list goes on and on. When you have a city that allows renegade department heads to do as they wish and council committees who “rubber stamp” requests, this is what you get.

    My mantra has always been “blame the process and not the person” but should change to “want to change the process? – change the people”

  2. John Frank

    Letting a ship that size permanently berth at a dock built for much smaller visiting boats was asking for trouble. A walk down the dock would reveal the dock was built with cleats sized for half inch line, the Island Belle was built with cleats for one inch line, well over than four times the load bearing capacity. The Island Belle’s dock lines could not be fastened to the dock cleats because of this big difference and were tied around structural parts of the dock.
    Letting a too-big boat tie up at that dock for a short visit in nice weather was not much of a problem, but leaving it there during hurricane season was stupid. Mr Mocciae was too focused on the money the city was supposed to be getting in dock fees to listen to any of the warnings about bad weather and the very predictable damage to the docks. Last I heard the City wasn’t even getting paid the dock fees. Good luck collecting damages for the damage.

    Allowing anyone to run a business at a City Park was another mistake and now would be an excellent time to withdraw the application to change the permit for the docks to allow unrestricted commercial use. Unrestricted commercial use of any part of any City park would be a mistake, unless we want another Walmart store in East Norwalk.

  3. Tom Dolan

    Director or Dictator?.

    Another example of the incompetent management style of Director Moccaie. He and his Veterans Park supervisor ( Mike Griffin) knew better and refused to act. Did Mr. Mocciae “welcome any ideas the commission conveyed” during the Veterans park master plan discussion? Not until the very end when Chairman Pretrini, Mr. Bondi and Mr. Igneri inter seeded on behalf of the waterfront. Did Mr. Moccaie “welcome any ideas the commission conveyed” during his departments application for unrestricted commercial use of the facility? No he did not. He sent the Corporation Council in to try to intimidate the defenders of the Harbor. The Harbor Commission stood their ground and the application was pulled from consideration ( after the dock was destroyed by unregulated / unrestricted use authorized by Moccaie).

    Now Mr. Moccaie and associates will band together to discredit any person or commission that express a dissenting view.

    Keep holding on Chairman D’Andrea, We need you and your commission to continue to ask the tough questions. Our safety depends on it.

    As Diane said… Welcome to the Club.

    1. Diane C2

      Amen, John. Mr. D’Andrea PROMISED there would be nothing adopted that includes the words “unrestricted use”. How is that working out? Is the term still in the application and was it approved????
      And to Tom’s point – quite frankly, there is no nice way to say this – Mr. Mocciae is out of control, along with other department heads- the inmates running the asylum over there.

      1. Tom Dolan

        According to the minutes , the Harbor Commission found the application by the City for change in use of the Visitors dock unacceptable as prepared. They informed the city unless several parts of the application were modified that they could not endorse the project. The application was removed from consideration by the city immediately after the dock disappeared). Did the NHMC honor their promise? It looks like they did.

  4. NorwalkCT

    Mike Mocciae, not being a man well versed in the ways of the water, may merely be guilty of ignorance and arrogance. His arrogance keeps him from realizing his ignorance. But thats a dangerous combination when that arrogance keeps him from listening to people who do know what they are talking about when it comes to matters of the waterfront. That arrogance regarding his ignorance damn near cost peoples’ lives and did get property destroyed during the storm, despite many prior warnings. The whole situation could have and should have been avoided had his arrogance not stood in the way.

    Mike Griffin on the other hand, cannot plead ignorance. He is well versed on the ways of the water and had to know and be fully aware of the dangers to which he was subjecting the citizenry of Norwalk , and the property of this city and its citizens. As Harbor Master, he is charged with helping protect this city against exactly the types of dangers he is complicit in helping to create in the matter of the Island Belle. Arrogance paired with greed? Perhaps an even more deadly combination.

    They should both be fired to protect the citizenry of this city from further exposure to their incompetence, and then they should be investigated to see if there were other factors driving their terrible decision making.

  5. Tim T

    In the private sector as in the real world someone would be fired for this..

  6. oldtimer

    Fired, at least, probably brought up on charges for negligence.

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