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Valley's marina owners ready to repair ice-damaged docks

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 12:36 a.m.
Dan Speicher | For Valley News Dispatch
R.J. Brown River Towing Inc. crane operator Josh Sasfai of Kittanning, surveys damage at Manni's Lighthouse Landing Inc, Marina in New Kensington on Friday, March 7, 2014. Manni's docks were severely damaged from the winter ice and repairs are estimated to be more than $200,000.
Dan Speicher | For Valley News Dispatch
R.J. Brown River Towing Inc. crane operator Josh Sasfai of Kittanning (center), talks with co-workers about the best way to remove damage at Manni's Lighthouse Landing Inc. marina in New Kensington, on Friday March 7, 2014. Manni's docks were damaged from the winter ice, and repairs are estimated to be more than $200,000.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Allegheny Valley Volunteer Fire Company firefighters survey the scene where barrels from damaged docks up river were mistaken for a possible body in the Allegheny River at Lock and Dam No. 3 in Harmar on Monday, March, 10, 2014.

After Allegheny River ice floes hammered several boat docks into twisted piles of steel and wood, the affected Alle-Kiski Valley marinas are bent on finishing repairs by boating season.

Some marinas have already contracted crews to begin repairs, with costs reported as high as $200,000.

Others are holding off over fears that ice jams farther north might suddenly give way, launching boulder-size ice chunks down river.

That's what happened mid-January when unseasonably warm weather loosened several substantial jams that formed in sub-zero temperatures the week before. Several boat docks in the Alle-Kiski Valley fell victim, including those at Manni's Lighthouse Landing in New Kensington.

Owner Frank Manni said the runaway ice jams caused about $200,000 worth of damage to the marina's docks and boats in the water. The repair costs are being covered by the marina's insurance provider and include the services of R.J. Brown River Towing Inc., which is replacing all of Manni's 1,200 linear feet of dock.

Crews have already begun pulling the damaged docks from the water with a barge crane as Manni tests the market for new material.

He projects work to be complete by the end of April in time for the 2014 boating season, which begins in May.

“We're not going to let it slow us down,” Manni said. “We'll be ready.”

R.J. Brown River Towing Inc. could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Some marina owners are forgoing the contractor route and will repair the damages themselves. Blair Cessna, owner of Logan's Ferry Marina in Plum, said he will begin this month fixing the 350 feet of dock that was gnarled by the melting jams.

“One huge slab of ice grabbed the stretch of dock and just pulled the dock with it into a pylon,” he said. “The dock looked like an accordion — bent left, right, under and over the pylon.”

Another 300 feet of Cessna's 1,000-foot dock was damaged but can be salvaged, he said. Still another 150 feet was torn away and sent adrift.

Cessna said he doesn't know where the dock washed up, but reports of floating debris have popped up throughout Allegheny County.

Emergency dispatchers on Monday reported a caller claiming to have seen a dead body floating in the Allegheny River in Harmar.

Once Harmar police descended upon the scene, it was discovered that “the body” was a couple of barrels, likely swept down river from a dock like Cessna's, according to 911. Harmar police could not be reached for comment.

The cost of Cessna's repairs, which he will incur himself, total about $30,000, he said. He won't begin work for another week or so to avoid being set back by more ice floes.

“We weren't expecting anything bad this year, and we were caught with our pants down,” he said. “I won't let that happen again.”

Ice formations as thick as 2 feet have been measured near Parker and Rimer, Armstrong County, according to Werner Loehlein, chief of water management for the Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District.

Less significant formations have been recorded sporadically between Freeport and Oil City, Venango County, he said.

“There's still ice, but the worst is definitely behind us,” Loehlein said. “We've been fortunate to have had such an unusually dry March. You start running into problems when the weather is cold and then warms rapidly, and you have precipitation on top of that.”

Lee Hendricks, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the weather of late has been ideal for melting snow and ice. He doesn't anticipate any major problems moving forward, either.

“The ice seems to be rotting in place, which is a positive,” he said. “We've had ideal weather for it. Daytime temperatures have been reaching the 50s, weakening the ice, and then it stabilizes overnight with temperatures dropping to freezing.”

Hendricks said while Wednesday's forecast calls for rain in the morning, a wintry mix in the afternoon and snow in the evening, the projected half-inch of precipitation is unlikely to affect ice patterns on the river, Hendricks said.

Temperatures are forecast to rise again on Thursday and Friday, but not dramatically enough to cause notable melting.

“We're keeping a close eye on things,” Hendricks said, “and they look promising right now.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or

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