Report: Norwalk dock not up to the chore it’s being given

Norwalk Harbor Management Commission 052014 046-001
Norwalk Harbor Management Commission member John Romano argues against concerns about the Veterans Park visitor’s dock Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk harbor keepers say their fears have been validated by an outside firm hired by the city in a report that declares that the Veteran Park visitor’s dock is insufficient to support “public assembly,” even as one such assembly is planned for this weekend.

The Engineering Assessment and Condition Report of the Floating Dock System at the park, done by Roberge Associates Coastal Engineers LLC (RACE) of Stratford at the request of the Harbor Management Commission and the Department of Recreation and Parks, concludes with the following paragraph:

“The buoyancy in the existing dock system is insufficient to support the recommended minimum loading for a facility that could involve public assembly. Improvements to the floating docks will need to be made to support the minimum recommended live load capacity.”

The report was done specifically to consider a vessel with the dimensions of the Island Belle, which blew across the harbor as Superstorm Sandy came in on Oct. 29, 2012, pulling the dock behind it. The Island Belle has requested the use of the dock Sunday, according to Recreation and Parks Department Director Mike Mocciae. That would be the first commercial use of the dock under a permits issued by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) in January and the Army Corps of Engineers in February.

Some Harbor Management Commission members said Tuesday they are very concerned about the above-mentioned conclusion of the report, and other segments. The commission voted to request that a Department of Public Works engineer review the report and make recommendations, even if John Romano said Corporation Counsel’s office, the city’s Risk Assessment office and Recreation Parks Department have already reviewed it. Romano was the only member to vote against the request.

“I think what we’re saying is it’s possible that the people who have reviewed this document thus far don’t really understand its implications and therefore an engineer might be helpful in them doing that,” Commission Chairman Jose Juan Cebrian said. “… When I have my car fixed, the fact that somebody tells me all the things that are wrong with it doesn’t mean that I understand what the hell he is talking about.”

Cebrian and other commission members said they also did not completely understand the report. They said they wanted an engineer’s guidance, but they were concerned.

“What concerns me the most is what you look at in this report, whether it’s cleats, whether it’s buoyancy, where it’s docks, it’s deficient,” Tony Mobilia said. “So how does the city go forward and use this dock for commercial use when it’s just about adequate for recreational use.”

“If our Public Works comes back and says this project is safe that’s the end of it,” Tony D’Andrea said. “I mean, they’re three good engineers, all with a PE at the end of their name. They’re going to read it and come back with some serious questions.”

The report cited problems with the floats in the 20-year-old dock system, but said the dock is in fair condition considering its age. The floats list on the part of the dock the Island Belle is expected to use for a mooring.

The report said:

“The results of this structural analysis indicate specific critical limitations on the floating dock system from the environmental load conditions imposed by the 110-foot subject vessel. These limitations should be thoroughly reviewed and understood by city personnel in determining the future use for the Veteran’s Memorial Park dock facilities.”

Commissioners discussed the issue in the context of a drafted agreement for a commercial vessel to use the dock. No more than 40 people will be allowed to be on the dock at one time, according to the agreement. A vessel will not be allowed to dock during sustained winds of 20 miles per hour, the agreement states.

Problem, said Shellfish Commission Chairman Pete Johnson: What if it’s 20 mph when the boat goes out but it’s blowing harder when it comes back?

“Let’s say he’s doing a party and he’s coming in and there’s a 35-mile-an-hour wind. Does that mean he ties up there when it won’t take the load?” Johnson asked.

“I think that 20 miles an hour is a fudge-safe number. I think it’s obviously greater than that. But 20? That’s fine,” Romano said. “It’s a cover-your-butt scenario and they made it 20. Because that dock is proven with this vessel to take much more than that.”

Mobilia said he had been on the dock last weekend with eight people who had problems with the dock’s “list.”

“The dock was waffling. I can’t imagine 40 people on that dock if eight was causing it to sink,” Mobilia said.

“I’m sure you were at a list, but the way those cleats are all lined up, and the pilings, it will never let it go down and over where the docks going to flip, it’s going to be on its list at its best,” Johnson said. “So it’s an acceptable thing. It’s how they have been years gone by. All of a sudden now it’s an issue.”

“If you’re talking about boaters, yes,” Mobilia said. “You’re talking about docks doing a little pitching and rolling. If you are talking about passengers who are novices, visitors, they have no way of expecting anything.”

“I personally don’t buy the argument that because things worked in the past they work today,” Cebrian said. “Because we are in a different state. We went from non-commercial use to commercial use. We are now kind of playing big-boy games.”

“They have done a risk analysis and found an acceptable risk. No matter what we say,” D’Andrea said. “If they choose not to adhere to that information that’s not our responsibility. … We’ve done our due diligence as far as our job is concerned.”

John Pinto said it was the same as if New York City were notified of dangerous potholes.

“We have been forewarned,” he said. “Now we are playing with a different set of rules. We know the condition of these visitor’s docks. It’s a liability right now and we are aware of it.”

It’s not a liability for transient or recreational,” D’Andrea said.

The report cites specific things that were insufficient for a vessel of the Island Belle’s size in a strong wind, such as the size of the cleats, hardware used to tie up the boat at dock. Harbor Master Mike Griffin said the repairs were being made, and heavy chain had been ordered for the pile guides.

D’Andrea kept repeating the passage from the report that referred to the buoyancy being insufficient for public assembly.

“How does that get repaired?” he asked.

“That’s the statement that caught my eye from the beginning,” Pinto said.

He said it was wrong that the engineering report was done with the Island Belle in mind. “Rather than allowing the engineering design dictate the size of the vessel you can have there, you’re backing into it,” he said.

“Forgetting the hurricane: This boat operated here for a couple of seasons,” Romano said. “It had no limitations. It tied up, stayed up, had people filing off the boat, filing onto the boat, had 100 and something people probably on the docks at one given time, with no limitations. Based on the report there are limitations in the new agreement. There were no issues or problems, and these are the same pilings and same docks reinstalled.”

“The difference today is that we have a commercial permit,” Cebrian said. “We have an engineering assessment in front of us. This is not about one frigging boat, it’s about the dock.”

Johnson referred to “old stuff, getting older.”

D’Andrea said Westport had the same docking systems and replaced them last year, although they were not as old as Norwalk’s dock. The concrete floats were falling apart, he said.

“The engineering report validated our concerns,” he said. “We brought these concerns forward in 2012, we brought them again in 2013, and when the permit was rescinded after the dock disappeared for whatever reason it did, and then it came back we still had the same concerns.”


14 responses to “Report: Norwalk dock not up to the chore it’s being given”

  1. Just curious

    It’s becoming more and more apparent there is an agenda to return the Island belle to the city docks regardless of any studies or engineering reports or common sense.Where will everyone pushing this agenda be when someone gets hurt or worse? I’m betting they all rum for the hills.

  2. Oldtimer

    Despite various opinions, now they have an engineering assessment from a company that designs docks and it says the visitor’s docks will not handle the anticipated load of commercial use. If the City ignores that assessment and allows commercial use that will put more people walking on that dock than it can safely hold, and somebody gets hurt or killed, the City will clearly have enormous liability. Now a decision must be made to spend the money to make the docks safe for the anticipated use or deny the use. The legal department needs to get involved as soon as possible to protect the City’s interests.

  3. Casey Smith

    @ Oldtimer –
    Your Comment – “The legal department needs to get involved as soon as possible to protect the City’s interests.”
    “John Romano said Corporation Counsel’s office, the city’s Risk Assessment office and Recreation Parks Department have already reviewed it.”
    “They have done a risk analysis and found an acceptable risk. No matter what we say,” D’Andrea said. “If they choose not to adhere to that information that’s not our responsibility. … We’ve done our due diligence as far as our job is concerned.”
    “We have been forewarned,” he said. “Now we are playing with a different set of rules. We know the condition of these visitor’s docks. It’s a liability right now and we are aware of it.” [John Pinto]
    Sounds like the Harbor Management Commission got left out in the cold on this one. Apparently Corporation Counsel sees no problem with this report, nor does Risk Management. According to the article, the dock will be used commercially on Sunday, so I guess everyone in the administration is okay with it, along with DEEP and the ACOE.

  4. Just curious

    Maybe if the island belle is cleared for its trip this Sunday everyone should gather on shore near the docks. I’m sure all the photo op seeking politicians will be there. Let’s let them test out the stability of the docks. Personally I’d love to hear a big splash!

  5. LWitherspoon

    “The buoyancy in the existing dock system is insufficient to support the recommended minimum loading for a facility that could involve public assembly. Improvements to the floating docks will need to be made to support the minimum recommended live load capacity.”
    What is the “recommended minimum loading for a facility that could involve public assembly”? What is the “minimum recommended live load capacity” for the docks?
    Who came up with the limit of 40 people max? On what calculation is that number based?


    How much money did THE CITY have to spend to repair the docks after the Hurricane Sandy/Island Belle damage?

  7. Oldtimer

    An marine engineering company owned by John Roberge, that only designs piers, dock and similar marine structures did the calculation. It is pretty simple arithmetic based on the displacement of the dock structure and how much that displacement is increased by the weight of each person standing on the dock. Enough people will put a dock underwater. In this case, the engineering company calculated the maximum safe load as the weight of forty people. The term they use is live load. A party boat that carries hundreds of people and brings them back to the dock after several hours cruising and eating and drinking can be expected to discharge more than a hundred people at the end of the trip. The engineering company has calculated that would be a dangerous overloading of the dock. The harbor management commission, with one dissent, takes the position the City should follow the advice of the engineering company. I didn’t read anywhere in this article where the law dept. had reviewed the engineering report or rendered an opinion on any part of this issue. The only effective repair would be much larger dock sections designed for a much larger live load, possibly built much like the barges used by dock building companies to carry their pile driving machinery with a load of pilings. Several area marine engineering companies could draw up a design and numerous contractors would bid on installing it. If the City intends to allow commercial use by passenger vessels the size of the Island Belle, the visitor’s dock needs to be upgraded.

  8. Oyster

    Its around the fourth paragraph where Romano asserts that those entities reviewed this…right before it says he was the only vote against.

  9. John C. Romano

    The Harbor commission including my self had concerns about commercial use of the forementioned docks. The commission Chair and the commission at large made a request to Recreation & Parks to commission an engineering report for the limits or limitations and viability of this type of use. Race/Roberge was hired to do this work, they are premeire group who is very experienced in this type of assessment specializing in Marina’s, docks, pilings and other related items.
    When the draft report came thru it was distributed to all of the Harbor Commission including myself. I read thru the entire document which went way beyond my expectations. It was an extremly thourogh total assessment including bringing up the deficeny’s or remeadiation that needed to be done.

    All the needed repairs are either done or in the process of being done. In fact it is the city’s position prior to any use all the pointed out repairs will be done. No where in the report does it say that the city’s engineers need to inspect the docks for another point of view or guidence. But what it specifically says that the governing body needs to understand what the report says and to abide by it’s reccomendations. (needed repairs and limits)
    That would be Recreation & Parks, Risk managment, corporate council The public should be aware of two additional things. One that the docks in their present condition are safe, they are not in danger of tipping over, listing yes, tipping over no, they are sandwiched in between pilings which makes tipping over almost imposible. Second point, yes these docks are in the planning stages of being replaced two years from now. Not because they are not safe, but because it will be close to the end of their life cycle.
    The Island Belle is only one of four different companies that have reserved use, commercial use of this facility and all Norwalkers should be proud they are coming and wish for more to see our value. They pay a fee, there are parking fee’s as well which allows good things to be done over time.
    It will also be a boost to our Resturants, stores, shops Maritime Aquarium, Seaport Association, our oyster culture and a much needed economic boost to all.
    Another point to make is that the Recreation & Parks committee of the city council, corporate council, assistant corporate council, and Risk assessment all read the engineering report very carefully and have imposed conditions to the lowest denominater instead of the highter perametors to aire on the side of saftey. That is why I was the decenting voice, I read, i evaluated, I understood what I was reading and concurred with the city’s position.

  10. Just curious

    Who is going to oversee and enforce these regulations and at what cost? Who really thinks people will go to sono after getting off these boats? I’m sure there will be a few who have already had maybe one too many on the boats and will go and add to the out of control chaos at closing time!People going on these boats are already being provided food and alcohol what’s the need to go to sono?

  11. Oldtimer

    Sounds like Romano is assuming that corporation counsel and risk management did certain things that may or may not have been done. Unless there is something on paper from them, it is a mistake to assume any decisions were made. If one of the Island Belle’s customers gets hurt, or worse, it would be smart if the City had an insurance certificate from the company that operates the Island Belle covering the liability for it’s customers.

  12. John C. Romano

    “Just Curious” The onus and expense will/should be expressed in the rules and regulations as they evolve over time as to who will burdon the cost and expense of monitoring the use. The Donovan center is generally staffed for normal use and can/will be the city’s observer. When any construction or event which has over XXX amount of people attending there is a general condition that when a permit is issued that off duty Police officers are hired for different purposes and this can be applied here at whom ever the ever the event organizers expense or cover the cost of same from the parking revenue.
    Also all cruises are not booze cruises, so there most certainly will be a residual effect to Resturants and shops in Norwalk.

    “Old Timer” (I am there as well) You make some valid points, except that I am assuming the facts. Fact: Corporation Council has been involved from the begining and will be involved thruout the process. Fact: Risk Mangment has done it’s due diligence based on the engineering reports considering all factors. Fact: The insurance limits and requirements of the commercial use permits/agreements are very comprehensive and protective and in favor of the city. Fact: Even with brand new docks in place anyone can be pushed, stumple, trip, or fall either on the docks or into the water. These are excptable risks at all Marina’s world wide.

  13. Just curious

    Another question is if an out of town boater comes looking to tie up and there is available space at the time and a commercial vessel has asked for permission to use the docks,what is the out of towner going to be told? These are the very people who tend to shop and eat in sono. If they come from out of town and can’t tie up to THE VISITOR’S DOCK do you really think they will ever come back?

  14. John C. Romano

    Just Curious” I actually hope we have such problems. In the Boating season I made many trips, freaquently across the sound to various long Is locations. North Port huntington, Port Jeff and else where. If I did not have a reservation I either waited until space opened up or went to a private Marina which Norwalk has many of. We are blessed to have a sought after facility. SO we should not be afraid of people being turned off as you state. Also with the commercial reservations they need to be made well in advance, so when a recreational boater calls in he will know the perametors of docking ability and the windows of time.

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