“All things considered, we fared pretty well,” said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale regarding overall damage within the city sustained by Tropical Storm Debby.
Public works director Tom Woodard said the bulk of the storm’s damage, which battered Anna Maria Island for three days beginning June 23, focused around the Historic Bridge Street Pier.
A total of nine boats broke from their Sarasota Bay anchors and crashed into the pier at some point during sustained high winds and surf.
By June 28, four boats had been removed from the pier.
“Not all of them are moved yet,” said Woodard, who estimated the pier would be shut down for approximately two weeks to undergo repairs.
Woodard said not all of the boat owners have been contacted, but those that were, “have been very proactive in getting their stuff out of there. But there are some boats, especially the ones underwater, that we don’t have information on yet.”
Woodard also said two additional boats were sunk in the channel and two more boats anchored in the bay were sunk south of the pier.
“The two in the channel can be a problem,” he said. “That’s the channel used by the Bridgetender and the parasailing company, so they might have a problem getting in and out of there until those boats are removed.”
Five of the nine boats that hit the pier sank under the pier and, as of June 28, work was initiated by the city to move those boats away from the pier and into open water.
Woodard estimates a complete shutdown of the pier for two weeks due to a broken piling.
“The reason why I say two weeks is that one of the concrete pilings is completely broken, but it is a priority of ours to get the pier open. We’ve contacted some dock companies and what they can do is splint the piling and make it safe. Then my guys are already beginning to repair the hand railings and planking so we can make it safe for people.”
Speciale said an engineer has already assessed the damage and would write off the pier as being safe once the broken piling is secured with the splint.
“From there, he will give us the OK to open the pier,” said Speciale. “I’d say two weeks is a fair assessment. We are doing everything we can to get it open as quickly as possible, but we also need to make sure it’s structurally sound before we open it for the safety of the public.”
Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant, on the Historic Bridge Street Pier did not sustain damage and remains open to the public.
Mooring field not a mooring field
Speciale said there have been complaints from citizens regarding the mooring field in Sarasota Bay, from which the boats broke anchor and slammed the pier.
“What people need to know is that it’s not a mooring field at all,” said Speciale. “I wish it was. I was pleasantly surprised the day dock held up as well as it did, and very surprised at the amount of boats that stayed anchored in the bay. They must have been anchored well or we would have had a lot more boats against the pier.”
Speciale said the city has no authority to prohibit boats from anchoring in the bay.
“They have every right to be there,” he said. “The state gave us the opportunity to create ordinances to regulate the activity there, but we can’t stop them from being there. It’s navigable water and they can anchor anywhere they want. It’s not a mooring field. I wish it was. We would have fared much better because with a mooring field they would have had something solid to anchor to with pins.”
Speciale said his department will do everything they can to recoup city funds expended to remove the boats from the boat owners, but it has been difficult thus far to find a boat’s owner with insurance. Some boat owners have offered to sign their titles over to the city, “but what are we going to with a wrecked boat?” Speciale asked.
“Some boat owners are even signing over the titles to whoever wants them,” he said. “The bottom line is that we are going to do whatever we can to recoup the losses from the damage done by the boats.”
Speciale had just returned from a June 28 Manatee County Emergency Operations Center meeting at the time he spoke to The Islander, and reported EOC was gathering information to declare the county as a federal disaster area.
“The state already has and Sarasota County already has,” said Speciale. “If the county is able to do that, then it will open the door to go after federal money to pay for the cleanup.”
Woodard said the last time boats hit the pier, “The cheapest to remove was $11,000 and the most expensive was $21,000. So with nine boats, five of which are sunk, we are looking at a price tag between $50,000-$100,000.”