City seeks restitution for pier damage
But Port Aransas City Manager Michael Kovacs said the city still intends to find some party other than the city to pay for the pier damage, which is expected to run into the thousands of dollars.
"I believe these ships are still responsible for all the wakes they cause," Kovacs said in remarks on Tuesday, Jan. 22. "So, if there's not going to be criminal penalties, then there should at least be, potentially, some civil liability."
The wave ripped away about 25 feet of the pier's boardwalk, stranding more than a dozen fishermen at the end of the structure for nearly two hours before the Coast Guard rescued them.
Conflicting reports put the number of fishermen on the pier at 13 or 14. Some of the anglers were untouched by the wave, but others said it soaked them to their waists when it hit the pier.
Rick Galant, of Millington, Mich., was fishing with a friend, fellow Michigan resident Perry Wolfington, at the end of the pier when the ship passed by. He said he saw the wave coming immediately after the ship passed by the pier.
"It hit the (bulkhead), and it shot up over the guys fishing there," Galant said. "And we saw it keep coming, and as the water got shallower, it kept building and building. I said to Perry, 'Hang on, because here it comes!' Next thing I know, people are hanging onto (pier rails). Then we looked, and we saw part of the pier had washed away."
Dolores Magee of San Angelo was standing on the bulkhead near the pier, shooting photos of the Tiete as it was passing by, because she saw dolphins leaping ahead of it. Then she noticed seawater draining away from the bulkhead.
"I look down, and the water was all going out," she recalled. " I could see the rocks and the bottom, like it was a tsunami. Then I heard someone say, 'Run!' ... I started running."
The wave blasted over the bulkhead and charged more than 150 feet across the pier parking lot before receding, witnesses said.
The anglers trapped on the pier were picked up by a Coast Guard boat that motored them to a dock about 50 yards away, at the Porpoise Point gated community.
Brown, who runs a heavy equipment business, drove a large crane to the site. Firefighters wrapped straps around the section of pier floating in the water, and Brown used the crane to move it onto the pier parking lot.
There were comic aspects to the mishap. After getting over the initial shock of seeing part of the pier torn away by the wave, the stranded anglers continued fishing from the T-head while awaiting rescue by the Coast Guard.
In the pier parking lot, a good 50 feet from the water's edge, a great blue heron found and ate a fish that had been tossed inland by the wave.
The Coast Guard investigated the incident and found that the ship was not speeding but that a high tide and coastal flooding combined to make the ship's wake especially high, said Lt. j.g. Ben Sparacin, a public affairs officer stationed at Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi. The tide was "two feet above normal," he said.
The Coast Guard has closed its investigation and doesn't plan to issue citations to anyone in connection with the incident, Sparacin said.
Rendered inaccessible, the pier will remain closed to the public for an undetermined amount of time until repairs can be done, said Kovacs said.
Officials have not yet determined exactly how much it will cost to fix the pier, but Kovacs said he expects it to be less than $50,000. Cost for complete replacement of the pier would be about $200,000, he said.
The city has contacted its insurance company and is awaiting the company's direction on how to proceed, Kovacs said.
Tests are being done to make sure the pier's pilings were not damaged by the wake and still can hold up a new boardwalk, the city manager said.
No one knows for certain when the pier will be repaired and re-opened, but Kovacs said he wants it to be sooner rather than later.
"It's a really popular pier," he said. "We want to put that thing back in service. We're shooting for weeks, not months."
Sparacin said folks were lucky no one was seriously hurt.
"It's a dangerous spot to be in," Sparacin said. "We (in the Coast Guard) always stress, if you're around the water, on a pier, where that hazard is present, to bring a life jacket."
Wear a life jacket while fishing on a pier?
"Actually, it's not that uncommon in the commercial industry, like (marine) construction, or whatever," Sparacin said. "OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires life jackets when the water is deep enough.
"Recreationally, it's not a requirement," Sparacin said. "But it's not a bad idea."