For the past 11 years, water access has been a dire issue in Fort Myers, Fla., and the surrounding area. The cost of waterfront property has been skyrocketing and marina owners have been falling into a trend of selling to condo developers.
Construction of public waterfronts in the area, has been flat since 1987, despite the fact that the number of boats in use has jumped by 52 percent.
Across much of Florida — and around the country, for that matter — public water access is in great peril. The subject prompted Boating Industry magazine to focus in on the nationwide dilemma with Liz Walz’s article, “The Ultimate Hassle,” in last year’s July/August issue. Access issues “are putting boating’s future at risk” the article warned.
And that was before the devastating 2004 Florida hurricane season. The situation in Florida has been magnified now that docks, piers, buildings — in some cases entire marinas — have been blown away or have sunk. With the 2005 hurricane season looming around the corner and some forecasters predicting up to 15 storms for this coming season, Florida’s state trade associations, marine companies and owners are still recovering.
David Ray, executive vice president of the Marine Industries Association of Florida, is deeply concerned about the rapid erosion of access and what it means for the industry, Florida’s residents and transient boaters. And now, in the wake of last fall’s hurricanes, he says that “working waterfront has been lost dramatically. We now have a real crisis.”
Not that we need reminding
Florida’s 2004 hurricane hell began Aug. 13 when Charley, a category four storm, made landfall on Florida’s southwest coast and cut a swath northeast to Daytona Beach.
Frances followed on Labor Day weekend, swirling her way northwest, from Vero Beach on the southeast coast, and on through the Panhandle. In mid-September, Ivan, said to be one of the fiercest (and trickiest) storms on record, began to lose strength in the Panhandle, but doubled back to nail Pensacola.
Finally, Jeanne, after devastating Haiti Sept. 25, followed nearly the same path as Frances, making landfall on the Treasure Coast and barreling up to smack the Panhandle once again.
The total number of lost and damaged slips, docks, launches and drystack storage is difficult to assess. MIAF reported that 78 of its members suffered damage, 56 of which reported a total of nearly $40 million worth — with the caveat that the survey represents “only a fraction of the damage.” Not that that total wasn’t significant enough. The average loss per marina was estimated at $763,425, and the average cost to rebuild was $17,000 per drystack slip, and $56,000 per wet slip.
Skipper Bob Publications compiled what was, at least, a partial report, as well. Of the 120 marinas surveyed, as of late last year, 14 were closed and 38 were “open with damage.” In fact, Skipper Bob reports that “nearly all docks from mile 150 to 225 [from the eastern edge of Mobile Bay through Pensacola to the entrance of Coctawhachee Bay at Fort Walton Beach] were destroyed. For example, he notes, sardonically, that Pensacola’s Oyster Bar Marina, is “Closed, docks gone,” and Palafox Pier Marina is “Closed, 100 percent gone.”
In early May, Oyster Bar Marina’s Emile Petro reported that at least half, if not all, of his 50 slips would be operational by July, “depending on how fast the contractors move.” And Jim Mitchell, President of Marina Management Company, says that Palafax’s 104 slips will be finished by the beginning of July.
In a separate report by Sailboat Owners.com focusing on Florida’s east coast, of 50 marinas surveyed, every one of them was damaged by either Frances or Jeanne or, as in the case of Diamond 99 Marina, north of Melbourne, both: “Jeanne tore rebuilt docks back down,” the Web site reported. And, regarding Ft. Pierce City Marina, curtly noted: “After Frances, have a mess.”
Springing into action
The Marine Industries Association of South Florida was Johnny-on-the-spot immediately after Charley swept in from Punta Gorda on the west coast. According to MIASF Executive Director Frank Herhold, members distributed more than $15,000 in donated supplies — everything from fenders, dock lines and food, to grills, batteries and much more), and more than $5,000 in cash was contributed to the MIASF Hurricane Fund. Materials were stored at Ft. Lauderdale’s Billfish Marina. Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show producer Show Management provided a large truck to drop off supplies at the Leeward Yacht Club in Ft. Myers.
Brunswick quickly came to the aid of its Land ‘N’ Sea operation in Lake Suzy, to get distribution going after Charley completely destroyed the facility, and boat dealer suppliers such as Merritt Marine provided generators to their customers so they could get back to business sooner.
But MIAF’s Ray says some marinas have begun rebuilding while others have been forced to wait for contractors and resources to become available.
“It depends on the area,” Ray says. “For instance, many marinas in the Panhandle aren’t able to start rebuilding until later this year, or even next year. And many marinas won’t be back in business until 2006 or 2007, because there are simply no contractors available. They are literally maxed out with work.
“Ironically, we were going to put up a ‘Welcome Boaters!’ sign in the Panhandle this spring, but there wasn’t even a contractor available to sink the piles for the sign.”
Dan Coston, owner of Marine Construction, Inc., in North Palm Beach, says his company has a four- to five-month wait on work, “and some people haven’t received their insurance money yet, so they haven’t even signed contracts to get in line to have their docks rebuilt.
“Also, there’s a shortage of labor,” Coston says. “It’s hard to get competent dock builders and carpenters to work in the field. And it’s hard to retain good people.”
On top of that, Ray says the contractors are charging extremely high rates, because they have more work than they can handle. In some cases they won’t even quote a price.
To further exacerbate the access problem, the destruction of marinas is prompting the current owners to sell their properties “as is” to hungry condo developers who are circling like sharks, and, with wallets open, are more than ready to take advantage of the situation.
Where have all the boaters gone?
For the industry at large, the biggest question might be what are the land-locked boaters doing while docks and marinas are being rebuilt? From the aftermath of 1992’s Andrew, which took out South Dade marinas, MIAF’s Ray remembers that when boaters received their insurance checks for lost yachts, they were faced with the choice between purchasing a new vessel or rebuilding damaged homes. With no dockage available, many opted to fix their houses.
“So, we did lose boaters over the short term,” he says.
In ideal cases, marinas were covered by insurance. Those with extensive (not to mention expensive) wind and flood insurance are the first to be rebuilt.
“Of course,” says Bill Yeargin, vice president at yacht manufacturer Rybovich Spencer, “insurance companies will build in a higher risk
factor to premiums, given the hurricane experience.”
So, will smaller local marinas get priced out?
“It’s hard to tell,” Yeargin says, “but any excessive cost can jeopardize small businesses that operate on small margins to begin with.”
The Florida state trades associations have appealed to the Florida legislature to provide $210 million in hurricane relief for privately owned marinas with public access, but as of press time the bill was said to have been killed.
There are no federal loan guarantees as such, but FEMA can assist government-owned facilities. And, according to Coston, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and local building departments have helped.
“If you are rebuilding your dock in the original footprint, they are expediting those permits,” he says.
Dockage fees will most likely be increased at affected marinas for two reasons, according to Yeargin. The first is to recoup the cost of rebuilding, and the other is to compensate for the higher demand for the remaining slips.
In the end, the single greatest barrier to easing the pressure that is currently exerting itself on access, and what will be needed to improve it in the future, may just be the rebuilding.
“The permitting process in Florida is broken due to a plethora of environmental concerns,” Ray says. “Permits are simply not being sent down the pipeline [except in the case of emergencies], which is just plain broken. And, again, there the poor boater is, caught in middle.”
“If we have another major hurricane, some boaters might just throw in the towel if their boat or dock is damaged or destroyed again,” adds Coston. “On the other hand, people are being forced to rebuild docks that were weak or in poor repair, so there may be less damage because the new docks will be stronger.
“Another problem we’re addressing is damage caused by improperly moored vessels that break loose in the wind and slam into docks and destroy them. Our association is looking at ways local parks can be used to secure vessels on land during hurricanes.”
Coston concludes that the vast majority of docks in Florida will eventually be rebuilt.
As Herhold observes: “This is a resilient industry with a lot of resourceful professionals. We’re simply people who are devoted to serving the boating public.”
The right insurance
With a little bit of luck and the proper insurance, Fort Pierce Marina is returning “better than ever.”
Hurricane Frances slammed into Fort Pierce, Fla., in the wee hours of Sept. 4, 2004, giving the city and its 289-slip municipal marina a thorough pummeling. After that violent bout, 10 inches of rain fell, then Hurricane Jeanne arrived three weeks later to finish the job of wiping out the marina’s floating wave attenuator, destroying the marina’s entire floating dock system, sinking and damaging scores of vessels and shoaling over the basin.
A technical knockout? Could’ve been. Damage to the marina amounted to $12.3 million, and damage to the vessels totaled $15.9 million.
But the city and the marina had the foresight to purchase the proper insurance. Even so, there are some aspects of their insurance programs they would change.
The key to rebuilding is cash, of course, and plenty of it — preferably from well-designed insurance programs, both the marinas and boat owners’.
The city had purchased three marina dock insurance policies to reduce the impact on any one company in the event of catastrophe. The marina was insured for $6.5 million and carried $1.3 million loss-of-business coverage. As a public facility, Fort Pierce is eligible for FEMA funds once the insurance money is spent.
Here is the part of the insurance program that Kubitschek would tweak: “We require that our boaters hold $300,000 in liability insurance to cover damage to another boat or person. However, while a customer may have the proper liability insurance and proof of coverage when signing the slip contract, he may realize six months down the road that he can’t afford it and will drop the coverage without letting us know. The solution is to have the marina listed as a co-insured. Therefore, if the policy is cancelled or changed in any way, we’ll be notified by the insurance company.”
In addition, Kubitschek recommends that when negotiating insurance contracts, remember to factor in the considerable cost of demolition and disposal. “It cost us $1.5 million to remove what was left of our concrete docks,” he says. “I also recommend that boat owners carry hull insurance to reimburse you for boat salvage operations. You will find the average boat owner cannot afford out-of-pocket salvage fees that can start at $100 per foot, and doesn’t even include towing crane fees, storage on land, demolition, dump fees and remediating fuel spills.”
The City of Fort Pierce Marina was partially operational 72 hours after Hurricane Fran, thanks in large part to the fact that its fuel lines run over land, so they were able to serve work boats.
Kubitschek was undaunted throughout the turmoil, and looks forward to having the marina continue in its role as a focal point for a revitalized city.
“Now with 110 slips,” he explains, “we’ll host our usual fishing tournaments, two boat shows, seafood festivals, our year-round farmers market, car shows and lots of parties.”
Take note, Frances and Jeanne: Fort Pierce is back with a vengeance. — by Elizabeth Altick
The get-well program
Communication is key
Santa Rosa Yacht and Boat Club in Gulf Breeze, Fla., was practically demolished by Hurricane Ivan on Sept. 16, 2004. After assessing the damage and dealing with insurance adjusters, a top priority for this private club’s dockmaster, Jason Wiggins, and board member Arnie Kendall, was to communicate with members. On Oct. 7, as soon as they were allowed in to see the damage, they began a continuing series of detailed updates on their Web site, www.santarosayachtclub.com.
“Communication was and still is very important,” says Wiggins, “simply for the fact that it lets the owners and renters know that we have not forgotten about them.
“Most of our customers are very understanding, because they are in the same situation with their homes and businesses. We try to update the Web site as we gain new information. I am always available to answer any questions that arise.”
Slip owner John Barnett can’t say enough about the “proficient, orderly manner” in which Wiggins responded to the disaster. As soon as a named storm entered the Gulf, he contacted the boaters so they could follow their hurricane plans and move their boats to protected areas. Only two boats didn’t follow orders and were damaged.
In the aftermath, Barnett says, “Pensacola Beach was 80 percent destroyed. It was like a war zone … unbelievable. The National Guard wouldn’t let anyone in for several weeks, and even then we had to walk.
“Jason did an excellent job of assessing the damage and then communicating with us via the Web site and letters.“He set his priorities, then tried to please as many people as he could.
“We’ll probably be back to normal in four or five months, and spic-and-span in a year, after the retaining wall is refurbished and we get dredged.”
Following are edited highlights from the marina’s Web communiqués:
Oct. 7, 2005
Damage: Damage to the east side of the facility was extensive. The docks and piers were destroyed. The wooden deck is gone.
Insurance: The building and contents of the upland facilities were covered by wind and flood insurance. The docks and piers were covered for wind damage, but not flood. We must determine whether the damage was the result of tornado or other strong winds … We can expect some resistance, and potential litigation/dispute resolution with the insurance companies.
Inside Storage: Boats on racks inside the dry-storage hangar appear to have been protected very well. There is cosmetic damage here and there, but nothing catastrophic.
Get-Well Plan: We will put the pieces back in place in stages as quickly as we can. We will look into establishing temporary berthing for our wet-slip owners, even if it means tying to pylons and getting to and from the boats via dinghy.
Design Changes. Now is the time to be thinking about desirable changes to the design of the common areas of the building.
Nov. 8, 2004
Dry Storage Rental Fees: There is a question in the minds of some dry storage renters as to whether or not they must pay rent during the period that the marina is not operational. The answer is yes, if you want to continue to store your boat in the hangar. If a renter terminates, there is no guarantee that a space will be available later.
Nov. 15, 2004
Boat Removal: We now have the ability to put a boat in the water, between 9 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday. This is a service for anyone who wishes to remove his or her boat from the marina.
Jan. 26, 2005
The “No Boat Movement Period” begins Jan. 31. A barge and crane have arrived in the marina. Portions of the upland property will be used to sort, segregate and store salvageable material. This will make it difficult, if not impossible, to move boats in and out of dry storage for about a month. — by Elizabeth Altick
Don’t treat waste with haste
There are laws against it
Along with the rest of the headaches brought on by the 2004 hurricane season has been the problem of removing the mounds of debris. Of particular concern are the remains of old docks constructed of wood treated with chromated copper arsenate an environmental toxin that could contaminate groundwater.
Richard Tedder, administrator of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection Solid Waste Management program, reviews the current rules that marina managers and contractors must follow. (These rules vary by state, so be sure to check with your local DEP before making the trip to the dump.)
“Currently, if you demolish or replace a dock,” says Tedder, “the treated wood is considered construction-and-demolition debris and can be disposed of at a permitted C&D debris demolition site in Florida.” He says the easiest way to locate the nearest site is to contact the DEP’s district office at http://www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/dist/default.htm.
“However,” cautions Tedder [and wouldn’t you know it couldn’t be that simple], “we are in the process of changing our solid waste rule to require folks to dispose of this wood in a permitted Class I landfill as much as possible.”
Class I landfills have bottom-liners that are safer than the unlined C&D sites. Again, if you don’t know where these Class I landfills are, contact the DEP’s district office. Tedder says the DEP is now working on a Best Management Practices document to figure out the safest ways to separate treated wood. This proposal will be available for public comment and discussion during workshops around the state this summer. Updates on the rulemaking can be found at: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/waste/categories/solid_waste/pages/IWDR.htm
“In the meantime, if a dock was damaged during last year’s hurricanes, and is just now being replaced, the treated wood is still considered C&D debris, and until we change our rule, could technically go to a C&D site for disposal.
“There is another wrinkle here though, in that this would be considered a ‘dedicated load,’ which means it consists of nothing but treated wood.” says Tedder. Therefore the DEP has been encouraging C&D facilities to divert dedicated loads directly to Class I landfills, because C&D sites may not accept them.
In addition to the wood debris, marina managers need to clear out vegetative wastes and mixed debris. The former are mostly being mulched and either used on agricultural land as an amendment or burned as fuel.
The mixed debris waste (everything else that is not exclusively vegetative) may be disposed of at Class I landfills.
Finally, if there are any specific questions, it’s best to check with your state’s local DEP. They will know if there are any special issues associated with your particular disposal problem.
— by Elizabeth Altick