Yough currents threaten McKees Point Marina docks
Strong currents and floating debris on the Youghiogheny River compromised three docks in the Marina at McKees Point, sending one downstream to the Monongahela as waters rose Tuesday afternoon in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
“The only thing holding the docks on right now are the loop brackets attached to the poles,” marina manager Ray Dougherty said, looking out on a warped marina that comfortably held 182 boats this summer.
“That's what's stopping the docks from going downriver, but they're pretty much wasted. They're mangled.”
Dougherty was joined by the city of McKeesport's administration and emergency personnel, assessing damage as waters continued to rise.
The river measured at approximately 17 feet in Sutersville Tuesday afternoon, while local crews were watching for further damage in McKeesport. The river was expected to crest later at 20.7 feet, several inches over the 20-foot flood stage.
“Up to this point, all property authorities have been notified,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “It's become a waiting game. One of our docks broke loose and was up against another, putting in danger three total docks.”
After that initial damage, another dock broke from its location and traveled downriver to the Monongahela. City police briefly blocked the McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge as the breakaway dock safely passed below.
“At that point, our biggest concern became bridge traffic, because there was not much river traffic on the water at that time,” Cherepko explained. “It's a safety precaution in case the dock or any of the attached debris would hit hard enough to rattle the bridge and endanger drivers.”
Using data measured by the Army Corps of Engineers at Sutersville, McKeesport emergency management coordinator Bill Miller said at presstime that he expected the marina to see the worst of Sandy when the river crested between 8 and 11 Tuesday night.
“We've contacted the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers,” Miller said. “They're all aware of the situation. Unless more docks break free, we have to wait and see what happens.”
The Marina at McKees Point has not seen significant weather damage since Jan. 31, 2001, when an ice floe took out a network of 210 docks and slips. Ice traveled down the Youghiogheny in blocks measuring 12-18 inches thick.
“It took everything out from shore to shore,” then-marina manager Steve Kondrosky said on the 10-year anniversary of that disaster. Docks, lighthouses and other debris were carried all the way into the Ohio River, where some items were recovered.
City officials were hopeful that Tuesday's damage wouldn't reach that disastrous end, but some boaters said the little damage that did occur could have been avoided.
Stan Jankovic, Matt Jankovic and Tom Neel — members of the crew that removes the marina's docks each year — said the laziness of other boaters contributed to Tuesday's mess.
“There's a lot of current and a lot of debris, and that's causing us a lot of problems,” Stan Jankovic said. “The debris is catching on the docks. The current is causing the docks to spin, and that's what's causing them to break.”
He and Neel said they are frustrated, because the docks shouldn't have been in the water on Tuesday. They blamed “lazy people” who did not meet the Oct. 15 deadline to have all boats — excluding one that had special permission to remain — removed from the marina.
“All of these little boats have no excuse,” Neel said. “They should have been out, and they've held us up. We've spent a lot of time pulling boats out, when we should have been taking docks out.”
“Their laziness contributed to this disaster,” Stan Jankovic added.
The docks where this crew attaches their personal boats were destroyed in Tuesday's damages. Noting he has been communicating with fellow boaters via text message and email, Neel said, “We sent them pictures and told them what's going on. They can't believe it.”
“It's going to take a lot to fix it,” Stan Jankovic said. “We went through this in 2000, and there was no 2000 season because of it.”
Cherepko said city officials hope the damage won't set back the 2013 summer boating season.
“As of right now, we are talking about three docks on the end,” the mayor said. “We hope we can work with our insurance to have these docks replaced in time for boating season; but as it stands right now, even if we didn't replace them, we would be able to put all of the other docks back and only be short by three.”
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or email@example.com.