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High winds damage Gustavus breakwater

Clough: Violent storm exceeded the capacity of the facility

Posted: January 16, 2014 - 1:10am
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The Gustavus breakwater float is pictured in December after a storm damaged the structure. Earlier this week a second storm battered the facility ultimately causing the float to detach from the pilings that once held it in place.   Courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
Courtesy Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities
The Gustavus breakwater float is pictured in December after a storm damaged the structure. Earlier this week a second storm battered the facility ultimately causing the float to detach from the pilings that once held it in place.

A violent storm in Gustavus Tuesday caused a state-owned breakwater to break away from its pilings and wash up onto the shore. The breakwater, which is also used as a small boat harbor in the summer, was built in 2010 alongside a new ferry dock. The entire project cost $17 million and was funded by the state, the Denali Commission and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

Southeast Director for the Department of Transportation Al Clough said the breakwater has minor damage and can be salvaged, but that there are no immediate plans to rebuild the three-year-old dock.

“We have absolutely no idea because we don’t have the money to do it,” Clough said. “The first order of business is to secure the existing facility, which essentially is get that breakwater back floating and put some place where it’s not going to receive any additional damage.”

Clough said the next steps include looking at design changes to re-establish the breakwater. He said there are numerous options for the department to consider, but that “none of them are cheap or easy.”

The damage to the breakwater does not at all affect the Alaska Marine Highway ferry dock, Clough said. He said the breakwater is not connected to the ferry dock. However, a major storm near the end of December that caused damage to the loading ramp on the ferry dock also caused damage to the breakwater. Clough said when completing repairs to the ferry dock last week, workers noticed damage to the breakwater pilings. Clough said workers were preparing to return to Gustavus to repair the breakwater when the storm happened.

“We were literally getting ready to send the contractor back with the necessary equipment, which they did not have the first time they were over there, to affect that effort and this latest storm blew in yesterday and the day before,” Clough said. “That storm event late yesterday afternoon damaged the mooring system for the floating breakwater and set it free.”

The last two storms that damaged the breakwater were not anticipated in the design of the structure, Clough said.

“It’s an exposed shoreline there and we had a design that was based on a number of assumptions on what kind of sea conditions and things one might expect and obviously we had a pretty violent storm that exceeded the capacity of the facility,” he said.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Edward Liske said wind gusts up to 47 mph were recorded at Bartlett Cove Tuesday. Bartlett Cove is inside the west edge of Point Gustavus; the ferry dock and breakwater are on the east side of the point. Liske said Tuesday’s winds in Bartlett Cove were unusually high.

• Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at jennifer.n.canfield@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/canfieldjenn.

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