“It looks like a war zone.”
That’s how town Board of Trustees president John Bredemeyer described the damaged docks that now line Southold’s creeks and bays. The historically cold winter, and the freezing and re-freezing that has come with it, has broken and splintered dozens, if not hundreds, of the wooden structures.
From Mattituck to Orient, the freeze has popped pilings out of area waters like turkey timers.
“The ice is picking them right up,” said Dave Bergen, another member of the Board of Trustees, which has regulatory authority over the town’s waterways. “And what happens on some of the docks, particularly on the floating docks, the people leave the floats in and they are chained, and as the pilings go up, the chains snaps.
“We might start seeing some of these floating docks start floating freely around.”
As the Trustees pointed out, many waterfront properties in town belong to people who have residences elsewhere, so they may not be aware of the damage. The Trustees are encouraging anyone with a damaged dock to contact them.
“In most cases, repairs to existing permanent structures are totally authorized and people can just conduct them,” said Mr. Bredemeyer, adding that people could simply email the board clerk, Elizabeth Cantrell, photographs of any damage at [email protected].
Still, some of the damage might be so extensive it will require field visits, he said.
“I think it’s going to be a rude awakening to a lot of people as they return,” Mr. Bergen said. “You see all the driveways that aren’t shoveled, that’s how many people are away this time of year. But we’re going to work with them and if they do need permits, they can get their permits and they can get their docks fixed by April and enjoy a boating season again.”
According to National Weather Service, this February’s average temperature of 21.6 degrees marked the coldest on record dating to 1984, when record-keeping began on Long Island. The second coldest was 27.1 degrees in 2007.
Ian Crowley, owner and operator of Crowley Marine Contracting in Greenport, expects to be busy repairing docks the next few weeks. He said people returning to the area who find their docks busted should “just have some patience and play by the rules” by way of acquiring proper permits.
“Wait for somebody to come down the creek, because every creek has damage,” he said. “There’s very few creeks where there’s isolated damage” to one dock.
“As soon as we can, we’ll be putting two barges out there and coming by.” Above all, Mr. Crowley, said, people should hire someone they know and trust.
So how did those wooden pilings end up getting thrust so high out of the water?
As Mr. Bredemeyer explained, it’s like repeatedly dipping candles in hot wax. Each time water would freeze, melt and freeze again, another layer of heavy ice would stick to the base of the underwater poles — the part of the poles not exposed to the sun.
“It develops layers of ice,” he said. “You can get to the point where you have a ball of ice two to three feet around the piling. Then the tide will lift the whole piling.”
Mr. Bredemeyer said the board expects a bit of a heavier workload than in springs past, but will “take it in stride.”
“It’s not as bad as storm-related damage, like Irene or Sandy,” he said. “It doesn’t even come close.”
The Trustees can also be reached at 631-765-1892.