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Hurricane Dennis

Vinoy marina mangled

As boat owners find new docks, at issue is who should foot the bill to protect the resort's docks from future hurricane damage.

Published July 12, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - With the docks in a shambles because of Hurricane Dennis, the owners of boats in the Renaissance Vinoy Resort marina are moving their crafts to other locations.

But the larger question is how to rebuild the marina in the Vinoy Basin, and whether the city should build a breakwater to protect the docks from getting smashed again.

Boat owners and marina staff spent a harrowing weekend in the storm, lashing together boats to protect them, and chaining together sections of docks to keep them from breaking apart.

Hurricane Dennis' long rain bands swept across Tampa Bay and whipped up the Vinoy Basin from the east.

"The marina staff was unbelievable," said Fran Gentile, who went to the marina Sunday to check on her boat. "They were jumping on boats, adding extra lines. It was scary. The docks were breaking, they were rocking. We never thought that would happen."

The winds sent 4- and 5-foot waves into the basin, causing the floating docks to pitch up and down like a theme park ride, said boat owner John McCoy, 51, of St. Petersburg.

The docks were "rocking and rolling like crazy," McCoy said.

Asked if he was scared, McCoy said, "I guess what happens is the adrenaline kicks in. It's like a wild ride."

When the wild ride calmed down midafternoon Sunday, many parts of the docks were broken to bits and others were damaged.

"It's pretty well destroyed. There's nothing salvageable here," Vinoy dockmaster Howard Kornack said Monday.

Several boats were still tied to the remains of the docks Monday, but all will have to move at least temporarily. The docks were surrounded by debris.

The captain of one 64-foot yacht attempted to sail out to another St. Petersburg marina Sunday but "it got to Salt Creek and sunk," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Tasha Peters. "It's submerged but not completely gone under."

Kornack and Vinoy marina director Mike Dowling said the hotel staff has previously urged the city to put in a breakwater to prevent the waves from damaging the docks and boats.

"We have been talking for years and years and years," Dowling said.

Michael Connors, the city's director of engineering, stormwater and traffic operations, said a breakwater has been discussed, but the city staff is so far not recommending that one be built.

He said the city has suggested the hotel consider building a "fixed structure" on the south end of the marina that would not float like the current docks, and would protect floating platforms closer to the seawall.

Building a breakwater would be costly and complex, and would require a lengthy environmental permitting process, Conners said.

"Staff doesn't feel any protection to these privately owned and operated docks should be a taxpayer expense," Conners said.

The city owns the submerged land under the docks and leases it to the hotel, Dowling said. He said rebuilding the marina could cost as much as $2-million.

City Council member Earnest Williams said he did not recall receiving any requests to build a breakwater for the Vinoy marina in his five years on the council.

The council would be willing to consider such a proposal, he said, but would have to consider whether it was worth providing what would likely be major funding to a private marina.

"Whether or not it would be in the public interest to do that would be something we would have to determine," he said.

In contrast, St. Petersburg's city marina has a fixed breakwater system that was installed in the early 1970s when the docks were built, said David Metz, director of the city's downtown enterprise facilities department. But a breakwater was not part of the construction plan when the Vinoy marina was built 13 years ago, he said.

The contrast in the two marinas was evident during this weekend's storm.

"Our facilities fared pretty well," Metz said of the city's marinas. "We had some minor dock damage and minor boat damage but most of our incidents were not as serious" as the damage at the Vinoy.

Boat owners said they took their usual precautions before this weekend's storm, adding double and triple lines to their boats. They just never expected significant damage.

"If you get hit by a hurricane, you say, "Okay, we got hit by a hurricane, we're out of business,' said Ed Peters, whose boat was docked at the Vinoy marina but emerged mostly unscathed. "But we didn't even get hit by a hurricane. That's what makes this such a shame."

[Last modified July 12, 2005, 05:09:38]

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