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.”