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Into the Storm – Fort Pierce

Trying to contain Mother Nature

Trying to contain Mother Nature

When Hurricane Frances stalled for 16 hours over Fort Pierce, Fla., the city marina literally blew apart in the 100-mph winds. Some 120 floating docks jutting out into the Indian River were swept away in the 2004 Labor Day weekend storm, along with 50 boats tied to them. Wind, surge and tide pressed relentlessly against the boats at the docks until finally the cement pilings gave way, the docks slipped off, and the boats blew away.

Hurricanes are capricious, sparing some while pounding this boat or that marina into rubble. Boat owners and marina operators — the resilient ones anyway — regroup after the storm. They repair, rebuild and rethink their hurricane plan, all the while looking ahead with hope to a new season.

Two years after Frances, the Fort Pierce marina is about half its former size, but the story isn’t over yet. The city has rebuilt or repaired fixed wooden docks for 142 boats in its protected inner harbor, installed new utilities there, and dredged a new channel into the marina. Total cost so far: $2.8 million. Its current thinking — if tank-testing proves out and permits are forthcoming — is to rebuild the floating docks in the exposed outer harbor but protect them from wind and waves by creating a chain of man-made spoil islands to the south, where sandbars lie now. Cost: another $9 million.

Man proposes, nature disposes, and man proposes again how to beat hurricanes. Project coordinator Ed Seissiger says if engineers can’t figure out how to protect the outer docks, they won’t get rebuilt.