ODNR Ignored Local Experts to Fast-Track an Edgewater Marina Project Bound for "Catastrophic Failure"

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Local maritime experts warn that the floating docks currently under construction at Edgewater Marina are a disaster waiting to happen. The docks represent a quick (and to that end, imprudent) fix by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for a marina that has been closed to dockers since Superstorm Sandy obliterated it in October 2012, sinking more than 30 boats in the process.

The new aluminum floating docks, described in sequential fashion by former marina commodore Gregory Group as "slap dash," "dinky," "dangerous," "a joke" and "piece of shit," are scheduled to be fully installed and open for nautical fun and/or peril by mid-May 2014.

Group, a longtime maritime surveyor and consultant who has been clamoring for answers — about the state's awarding of contracts; about permitting for demolition and dredging; about EPA involvement; about marina management in general; and ultimately about the safety of the new docks, and the carelessness their construction represents — says the whole process has been a "disastrous mess."

What's known is that ODNR fast-tracked the floating docks project despite explicit urging to the contrary. Critics have pointed repeatedly to the outer stone breakwall, which was compromised during Sandy, and which wasn't strong enough to protect the welded-steel fixed docks in place when the storm hit. A Feb. 13, 2013, report commissioned by the Metroparks, prepared by engineer John Matricardi (who has done successful work for ODNR in the past), officially recommended that "no floating docks be installed at the [Edgewater Marina] until the outer breakwater and entrance improvements are made."

Scene followed up with Matricardi, who confirmed that he opposed the floating docks, calling them a "very bad idea" and saying that the breakwall repair — a process which includes permitting, designing and building — will take, at minimum, two years (i.e. two years after the dock installation). That's two years of exposure to wave damage.

"I doubt they'll last that long," said Matricardi, who added that a severe weather event much less severe than Sandy could cause significant damage to the Marina and the boats docked there.

The aluminum floating docks, built by MariCorp U.S.A. in St. Louis, are designed — per the ODNR Phase II proposal — to "withstand 1 foot continuous waves and waves up to 2.5 feet for a duration of four hours." For reference, during Sandy, the Edgewater Marina was battered by to 4-plus foot waves for more than 24 consecutive hours. Furthermore, the environmental assessment attached to the docks' bid package is from 1983-84. It contains erroneous information about wind patterns in the Edgewater Basin which create and exacerbate rough water conditions. The information states that the dominant wind comes from the south, when in fact the most current, accurate data suggests that wind blows from the north-northeast, directly into the mouth of the basin. So, you know, the opposite.

These docks are costing $2.7 million (part of a $7 million post-Sandy allocation from FEMA), and are thus not only a safety liability but potentially a gigantic fiscal waste.

The Metroparks have been predictably vague and unhelpful about their involvement. Sue Allen, CMP's steely Director of Communications, said only that the dock repair "is a project between the state and FEMA as a result of Superstorm Sandy which occurred before we acquired the lakefront property."

(CMP acquired six lakefront parks, including Edgewater, from ODNR in June 2013).

"We also understand that ODNR is pursuing a follow-up project involving the breakwall there," she wrote in an email.

Allen wouldn't confirm, on or off the record, the existence of John Matricardi's report advising against floating docks, (a report Scene has examined). Nor would she comment on whether CMP shared the report and its published reservations with the engineering folks at ODNR.

Those folks have been "hiding under their desks," according to Group. ODNR's engineering office agreed to and scheduled an interview with Scene, but did not answer calls. Nor did they provide answers to questions submitted via email, which they later requested in lieu of a phone interview.

Among the topics about which Scene is most curious:

Shortly after Sandy, former ODNR Chief of Engineering Dave Mohr okayed a no-bid demolition contract to Durocher Dock and Dredge, a Wisconsin-based, wholly owned subsidiary of Kokosing (an Ohio construction group known to throw big bucks around Columbus). Durocher's demo contract, an outrageous $1.472 million, included a $72,000 "mobilization fee." Only it turns out Durocher was in town for a job at Burke Lakefront Airport, so their "mobilization" consisted of relocating a tug and a crane barge 1.5 miles down the road. ODNR has not yet commented on their knowledge of Durocher's whereabouts at the time of the bid.

Prior to that "emergency declaration" contract — this was roughly Thanksgiving 2012 — ODNR's Jerry Reed contacted contractors, including George Gradel Co. in Toledo, about bidding on the demolition. But bidding packages never arrived. When contractors complained, Dave Mohr was demoted to "Special Projects Engineer." Mohr's replacement, Hung Thai, has not yet responded to questions about the cause of Mohr's demotion.

Once Durocher had scored the contract, to bypass a "glacially slow" Army Corps of Engineers permitting process, they dredged more than 32,000 cubic yards of detritus from the Edgewater Basin on a "maintenance permit" which technically only allowed them to dredge 7,100 cubic yards. The December ODNR contract has handwritten edits to align the dredging numbers with the permissible maximum.

The dredging and demo extended through much of January 2013. In February, Matricardi presented his report to the Metroparks, the one specifically saying that floating docks were a bad move, given the condition of the breakwater. ODNR (much like the Metroparks) hasn't commented on whether or not they were told about the report.

In summer 2013, Smith Group JJR was awarded the engineering contract and MariCorp got the contract for the docks. Smith Group JJR, by the way, engineered the North Perry Marina project in 2011 which is now the subject of multiple lawsuits out in Lake County. It was designed so poorly and with so little knowledge and regard for the local geography — they're from Wisconsin, after all — that $150,000 in annual dredging costs is required just to keep the Marina usable. This is the firm that ODNR tapped to do engineering at Edgewater.

It wasn't until December 2013 that the PD published a piece announcing the construction of a $2.7 million new marina. There was no mention of the remaining $4.3 million in the FEMA allocation. Scene can only assume ODNR will address that disparity in full when they respond to our email. After the PD piece, Greg Group and others started asking questions. None of them have been sufficiently answered, though Group acknowledged that the Division of Watercraft has been responsive.

Both Matricardi and Group suspect that URS (an engineering and construction firm) will "win" the bid to repair the breakwall, but URS' track record in Ohio is also poor. In July, URS completed engineering drawings for the Aqua Ohio project in Mentor at a cost of $20,000 which were rejected by the city because they were so flawed. Matricardi himself later re-engineered the same work successfully for $10,000.

Local and state politicians are expressing their concern as well. State Rep. Nickie J. Antonio, from Lakewood, said her office has been making friendly requests to ODNR about the finances involved.

"I think they've maybe misunderstood my questions," Antonio said, in a phone interview. "But I'm very concerned that the state is making a short-term fix when we have the opportunity, with the Federal funds, to make a long-term fix. It's really important that we do it right."

Antonio said she has spoken with residents who live near the marina who share her concerns.

"Experts are telling me that the best and safest way to repair [the marina] is to deal with the break wall first," she said. "This is what we have experts for."

Just before press time, Bethany McCorkle, a "spokesperson for ODNR," responded to a Scene email with the unfortunate news that Hung Thai was out of the office for a few days. She did provide four very clean paragraphs in response to the 30 questions we'd submitted.

As for the floating docks:

"ODNR understood there was some risk involved in replacing the docks prior to completing the break wall, but after weighing the potential risk against the possibility of losing the 2014 boating season, chose to move forward with construction of the marina," wrote McCorkle.

"We have an obligation to the concessionaire as well as the public to repair and replace the marina in a timely manner and have heard positive feedback about the renovations. ODNR is exhausting all options to secure a temporary solution for the break wall that will provide additional protection during 2014 until the project can be finalized in 2015. We are confident that the floating docks will withstand normal storm conditions inside the break wall."

Given the increasing severity of weather events year round — Superstorm Sandy, Polar Vortex, etc. —the fact that ODNR is literally banking on "normal storm conditions" should continue to raise serious questions about its efficacy and decision-making.

About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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