THREE TALES FROM HURRICANE MATTHEW

12 Jan, 2017

Hurricanes are dramatic. Each marina in the path of the storm has a different story to tell, and these help us learn about engineering, design, preparadness and planning.

In the December issue, the Marina Dock Age report about damage from the storm highlighted the importance of good communications before and after a hurricane. The article provided Internet sites that listed the condition of marinas, which marinas are opened or closed, navigation conditions on waterways and where fuel is available. See the December 2016 issue, page 42.

Marina damage from Hurricane Matthew varied from scattered tree limbs to total destruction.

This article shares the hurricane stories of three marinas that found themselves in the path of Matthew. They are Fort Pierce City Marina and St. Augustine Municipal Marina in Florida, and Harbour Town Yacht Basin on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. We’ll take them as the hurricane did, from south to north.

New Design

The city of Fort Pierce’s $31 million rebuilding project opened in June 2015, and replaced the marina that was destroyed in Hurricane Frances in 2004. The facility included a new $10 million outer marina built by Bellingham Marine and an innovative $11.5 million set of 11 artificial barrier islands. The city on Florida’s Treasure Coast decided to engineer and build a marina with a high probability of survival rather than face the financial burden of building a new marina after another severe storm.

Is it possible to build a marina to survive most hurricanes? Ed Seissiger is the city’s engineering project manager in charge of the project. He knew it would be impractical to build a marina that would survive any storm, but he believed man-made protective islands would enable the marina to survive most—perhaps even another Frances. If he was right, the city would realize enormous cost savings, continue in operation following a storm and protect millions of dollars in boat owners’ property. Matthew presented the first test of that proposition.

Seissiger was right and the islands did the job to the extent the they were tested by the storm. The marina sustained no real damage. “Maximum winds were 90 MPH with gusts to 100 MPH,” Seissiger said, “and at high tide we had approximately four feet of storm surge. The duration of the storm was much less than Frances (In 2004, Frances hovered over Fort Pierce for 28 hours). The situation was dicey until about 11:00 p.m. when Matthew made a jog 10 to 15 miles east. If that had not happened, the city would have taken a direct hit from a Category 4 storm.”

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