NORWALK, Conn. – A proper investigation is in order, according to two Norwalk citizens.
Dianne Lauricella and Bill Gardella were talking about the circumstances that allowed the Island Belle, a three-story, 110-foot long Mississippi River-style paddlewheel boat to be moored at the Veterans Park visitors dock, which was built for much smaller boats. The boat broke free during Hurricane Sandy, a situation that could have been deadly, according to members of the Norwalk Harbor Management Commission. Damage was done to the dock, the pilings and the pumping station.
The pair spoke in the closing minutes of Wednesday’s annual State of the Harbor meeting at City Hall.
“I hear that several of you risked your lives,” Lauricella said. “I am also aware from some (meeting) minutes from the past that this issue has been going on and mentioned to our city hall, our mayor and corporation counsel for many, many months prior to the hurricane.”
She urged the commission, in conjunction with the police department and the fire department, to conduct an investigation into the situation. She also said the damage would have to be paid for, and whether it was by federal funds (FEMA) or local, it comes from the taxpayers. The Island Belle’s owner, Ken Hart, she said, should be the one to foot the bill.
“I know you all worked so hard and you were very concerned,” she said. “Our pumping station was ripped out; that’s very important to the health of the shellfish and the like. … We think this owner should be held accountable. I am hoping that there will be proper action on this.”
Gardella, the general manager of Rex Marine, seconded the thought.
“She was right on the ball,” he said. “Before we let another boat come in that is too big for the dock – it had no business being there in the stormy conditions. Do you have a plan, guys? Because people put their lives at risk. It was unnecessary.”
Gardella also said Hart should pay the bill for the damage caused by his boat.
“At the marinas, we take responsibility for ourselves,” he said. “All the potential liability should be covered on that guy’s policy, not on somebody else’s dime.”
Norwalk Parks and Recreation Director Mike Mocciae said after the meeting that he believes Hart does have insurance, which will pay for the damage. “I assume he does because they’re (Corporation Counsel) working with him,” he said. “The costs aren’t as big as we thought it was. Everything is in corporation counsel’s office.”
Harbor Management Commission Chairman Tony D’Andrea said his commission isn’t interested in a witch hunt.
“We’ll be looking at permits for this facility again, (make sure) that we look at what’s the use, what’s the proposed duration, what’s the size of the vessel and try to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “I don’t want to look back and find fault.”