, Newburyport, MA

October 31, 2012

City assessing waterfront damage

Newburyport Daily News

---- — NEWBURYPORT - City officials yesterday were assessing the effect of tropical storm Sandy on the waterfront, but one damaged asset that will not appear as a municipal loss is a segment of a wooden riverfront floating dock damaged by the Prince of Whales as it was rocked by the churning Merrimack.

“That wasn’t a city dock,” said Harbormaster Paul Hogg. “All of our docks were out of the water.”

Joseph Brown, treasurer of the Waterfront Trust, said, “The boat owners are required to supply their own piers. If there is damage, that is their responsibility. This is not a city pier.”

The Prince of Whales on Monday was tied up along a small dock, which itself was attached to the permanent riverfront walkway which is supervised by the Waterfront Trust. It’s located on the city’s central waterfront.

The 100-foot-long boat, which can carry about 150 people, is one of the largest on the city’s waterfront.

Bill Neelon, captain of the Prince of Whales, said that his boat survived the storm with no damage.

He indicated that tying up to the dock made the most sense at the time.

“It was about noon (Monday) and it appeared tying up was the best thing to do,” said Neelon. “There aren’t many places you can put a boat of this size.

“As it turned out, this storm wasn’t that damaging - we’ve seen weather like this before.”

But that wasn’t the opinion of city officials when the storm winds reached their height at around 10 p.m. Monday. The ship, which faced stern toward the waves, was being hit by a barrage of large rollers driven by fierce winds. City officials worried that the ship would completely smash the dock and damage the city’s boardwalk, or might break loose from its lines.

They considered moving the boat, which would have been an extremely difficult manuever in the churning seas. Directly in its downwind path was the Black Cow restaurant, which was being pounded by waves, and floating docks that extended far out into the river. The Coast Guard, Harbormaster, several police and the mayor were brought to the scene. Eventually, it was decided moving the vessel posed too many risks.

Though some observers on the riverfront suggested that Neelon could have considered a mooring in the river on the west side of the Route 1 Bridge, Neelon said that was not a superior alternative.

“If you lose a boat off a mooring, there’s no way of getting it back (before destruction). The boat was in the water, and tying up here proved the right thing.”

Hogg, the harbormaster, said that most pleasure boats have been stored on land in recent weeks, and thus not vulnerable to damage. He said the Prince of Whales should have been moved upriver before the storm hit.

He added that city crews had removed municipal docks in recent weeks so they would not be in the path of harsh weather.

No major damage was reported along the river, and it appeared that most residences on land escaped damage as well.

But there was plenty of cleanup to be done. Municipal crews were dispatched throughout the city yesterday to clean up debris.

Mayor Donna Holaday said that the city had been ready for adverse weather.

“We (city officials) met several times to plan our response after we heard about the storm,” said Holaday. “We were prepared, and our teams have been active after it hit.”

Anthony Furnari, director of the Department of Public Services, said that his teams responded to downed power lines on Elmira Avenue and Pine Hill Road but that most neighborhoods did not lose power.

Furnari and Holaday have asked residents to rakes leaves away from storm drains, and dispose of leaves and debris in yard-waste bins or brown paper leaf bags.

He said that the city has about 4,000 storm drains and catch basins, and that it will be helpful if residents attempt to keep them clear of debris.

City officials say the compost center on Crow Lane will have expanded hours (until 4 p.m.) on Saturdays for the near future.

The center will be open Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. to accept storm debris, city officials say.