Snow and rain sank boats and nearly the port

  • Sue Waldburger<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 1:10pm

As bad as last month’s storm damage was, it fell short of the destruction suffered a decade ago by the Port of Edmonds when snow and ice destroyed most of the marina’s covered docks and many of the boats moored there.

It was 10 years ago this past Friday, Dec. 29, that Port officials got early-morning phone calls from security guards informing them of dock roofs collapsing and boats sinking on the Edmonds waterfront. In under four hours, $18 million in damage to structures and more than $10 million in boat damage was wrought by the weight of 20 inches of rain-soaked snow piled on dock roofs, recalled Bill Toskey, who was executive director of the port at the time.

Toskey, 69, of Mukilteo, shared recollections of the event at a meeting of the Edmonds Rotary Daybreakers Tuesday, Jan. 2. He said the damage was the worst he had encountered in his stints as director of three west-coast ports.

“Everyone is entitled to 15 minutes of fame, but that’s not the way you want to get your fame,” said Toskey, who headed port operations in Homer, Alaska, and Port Townsend before leading the Port of Edmonds from 1994-2002.

As boat owners learned of the damage that Sunday and made their way over snow-clogged streets to the marina, Port staff counted 100 sunken vessels and 300 more with major damage, Toskey said. The total represented half of the boats moored at the marina.

Of the 24 docks with roofs, 22 sank.

“People are more attached to their boats than they are to their cars,” Toskey said. When life-jacketed boat-owners accompanied by a hastily assembled escort team eventually were allowed to visit their broken boats and retrieve personal property, “They just cried,” he said.

With a plan for a new marina on the shelf — albeit one that was intended to span 14 years — and $5 million in reserves in the bank, the port was able to hit the ground running toward restoration of the public amenity, Toskey said. The calls to contractors began Monday morning to start the clean-up “because we had the money to start doing it,” he said.

Current executive director Chris Keuss joined the port staff soon after restoration began. The fact the port is “an economic engine for the community” helped drive the cooperative effort, he said.

The state, federal government and local jurisdiction immediately began cooperating in terms of financial disaster relief and fast-forwarding permit processes because “everyone recognized we had a major catastrophe here,” Keuss said. “Basically, it was a miracle we were able to work that fast.”

Port commissioners at the time – Don Stay, Dan Prinz and Ben Cain – also had the know-how and decisiveness to fast-track damage-control and repair plans, Toskey said.

“There was no time for ‘grand-standing,’ no time for talk of height limits or anything that wasn’t the real business of the port. They knew the difference between real and emotional issues. We didn’t lose money by sitting around losing time,” Toskey said.

Within 90 days of the storm, Toskey said, the port hauled out all sunk and damaged boats and removed the remains of 800 boat slips. Everything that could be recycled was; the rest was disposed of, which was no small feat given the contaminants involved such as creosote, oil and gasoline.

In 14 months, the first wave of boats were back in new slips; 18 months later, all the new slips were in and filled.

“What we were planning to do in 14 years we did in 14 months,” Toskey said.

The result is a “state-of-the-art marina in an area with ice and snow,” Toskey said, adding that he’s confident the marina is built to withstand just about anything nature can throw at it.

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