2008-01-24 / Front Page

City seeks restitution for pier damage

BY DAN PARKER SOUTH JETTY REPORTER

Aftermath The destroyed section of the pier rests in the Charlie's Pasture Pier parking lot (photo at left) after being lifted from where it was floating in the water near the stillstanding portion of the structure. The effort required a large crane (background) operated by Mayor Claude Brown. In the photo below, anglers await rescue from the pier after a 25-foot section of the structure connecting it to land was ripped away by a wave from a tanker ship. Aftermath The destroyed section of the pier rests in the Charlie's Pasture Pier parking lot (photo at left) after being lifted from where it was floating in the water near the stillstanding portion of the structure. The effort required a large crane (background) operated by Mayor Claude Brown. In the photo below, anglers await rescue from the pier after a 25-foot section of the structure connecting it to land was ripped away by a wave from a tanker ship. A Coast Guard investigation has determined that a ship was not speeding when it generated an unusually large wake that destroyed part of a public pier at Charlie's Pasture on Wednesday, Jan. 16.

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."

STAFF PHOTOS BY DAN PARKER STAFF PHOTOS BY DAN PARKER One person was reported injured by the ship's wake, estimated by some witnesses to have crested at three or four feet above the top of the concrete bulkhead adjacent to the pier.

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."

Rescued STAFF PHOTO BY DAN PARKER Fishermen disembark a Coast Guard vessel after being rescued from the damaged pier where they had been stranded for nearly two hours. Rescued STAFF PHOTO BY DAN PARKER Fishermen disembark a Coast Guard vessel after being rescued from the damaged pier where they had been stranded for nearly two hours. 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.

Photographic evidence STAFF PHOTO BY MURRAY JUDSON Port Aransas Police Chief Sam Russell, left, Mayor Claude Brown, right, and City Manager Michael Kovacs, second from right, view photos on the back of Dolores Magee's camera, which captured digital images of the ship moments before it sent a wave that heavily damaged the pier at Charlie's Pasture. Photographic evidence STAFF PHOTO BY MURRAY JUDSON Port Aransas Police Chief Sam Russell, left, Mayor Claude Brown, right, and City Manager Michael Kovacs, second from right, view photos on the back of Dolores Magee's camera, which captured digital images of the ship moments before it sent a wave that heavily damaged the pier at Charlie's Pasture. In addition to the Coast Guard, officials responding to the scene included police, firefighters, Kovacs, City Engineer Jim Urban and Mayor Claude Brown.

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 ship approaches COURTESY PHOTO BY DOLORES MAGEE This photo was snapped by Dolores Magee, a visitor from San Angelo, as the SKS Tiete passed by the pier at Charlie's Pasture. Moments later, a tall wave from the ship heavily damaged the pier. The pictured angler was not reported hurt. The ship approaches COURTESY PHOTO BY DOLORES MAGEE This photo was snapped by Dolores Magee, a visitor from San Angelo, as the SKS Tiete passed by the pier at Charlie's Pasture. Moments later, a tall wave from the ship heavily damaged the pier. The pictured angler was not reported hurt. The ship was an outbound tanker called the SKS Tiete, said Mario Gonzales, operations controller at the Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi Command Center. It passed the pier about 5:20 p.m.

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.

Surveying the damage STAFF PHOTO BY MURRAY JUDSON Port Aransas City Manager Michael Kovacs looks over the damage to the pier at Charlie's Pasture after a large wave flung by a passing ship destroyed part of the structure on Wednesday, Jan. 16. Fishermen stranded on the pier (visible in the background) were rescued by a Coast Guard boat. At least one person reported being injured. Surveying the damage STAFF PHOTO BY MURRAY JUDSON Port Aransas City Manager Michael Kovacs looks over the damage to the pier at Charlie's Pasture after a large wave flung by a passing ship destroyed part of the structure on Wednesday, Jan. 16. Fishermen stranded on the pier (visible in the background) were rescued by a Coast Guard boat. At least one person reported being injured. 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."

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