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Winter wrecks Island’s infrastructure

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO The dock to nowhere. Pilings pulled from the bottom of Coecles Harbor by a combination of ice and tides made this dock one of February’s victims.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO
The dock to nowhere. Pilings pulled from the bottom of Coecles Harbor by a combination of ice and tides made this dock one of February’s victims.

Crankiness and cabin fever will vanish with a rise in temperatures, but the first stirrings of spring could make the Island’s infrastructure woes much worse.

The roads and waterfront structures are being hammered by what is shaping up to be the coldest February on record, according to the National Weather Service. Thaws, though, will result in roads buckling and docks could be battered by freed ice flows.

On dry land, February is causing roads “to heave, move and shift,” said Commissioner of Public Works Jay Card Jr. on Tuesday. Mr. Card originally put a number of $300,000 to mitigate road damage “but it could exceed that,” he said.

Early next month, Mr. Card will be in Albany with the Suffolk County Highway Superintendents Association to make a pitch for more state funding.

Not only are problems immediate, but also the harsh winter is “speeding up the process of reducing the life expectancy of some roads,” Mr. Card said. “Instead of getting 20 years out of a road we might get 10.”

In addition, some town buildings have had heating problems, Mr. Card reported. Some buildings had switched to propane- fired heating and there have been problems with “vent lines,” he said.

The American Legion Hall has also had problems with heating, Mr. Card said. Docks have already been wrecked by a deadly combination of heavy icing and tides pushing moorings up from the bay bottom.

Some docks ruined this winter look like “the Tappan Zee Bridge,” said John Needham, president of Coecles Harbor Marina, with pilings arching 20 feet skyward.

Pilings are posts driven into the mud and sand under the water and “the ice freezes tight to the them like a vise grip,” Mr. Needham said. “As the tide comes in the ice rises and pulls the pilings straight up with it.”

But it could be worse, he added, since the ice covering the Island is “structurally deficient, it’s what we call ‘snow ice,’ not as strong as ice not covered with snow.”

Docks on the south and west sides of the Island could be in trouble when a thaw begins and large chunks and plates of ice begin moving, Mr. Needham said. “They pile into and against docks and it can get dramatic,” he added.

Many docks are not well built, Mr. Needham said, and places some blame on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The DEC went through a period where they restricted the size of the pilings and the structure and they’re the first to get pulled up,” Mr. Needham said. “They called them ‘seasonal docks.’ I don’t know what they were thinking.”

Docks that are not rising with the tide are well built, with many using a “bubble system,” or hoses along the bottom next to pilings that send up bubbles and warmer water. Another device protecting docks are “ice eaters,” electricity driven propellers that stir up the warmer water.

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