Port puts priority on Langley marina anchor line fix

The use of improper construction materials in the marina expansion project recently resulted in an anchor line weight falling free and a dock drifting out of position, Port of South Whidbey officials have confirmed.

A diver inspects the joint that connects a weight to an anchor line securing South Whidbey Harbor’s new docks to the seafloor.

The use of improper construction materials in the marina expansion project recently resulted in an anchor line weight falling free and a dock drifting out of position, Port of South Whidbey officials have confirmed.

Though no one was hurt in the incident and the weight was reattached within a day of the discovery, port commissioners took action Wednesday when they unanimously approved a $174,800 bid with Pacific Pile & Marine L.P. to address the problem and make other improvements to the new docks. The decision was made during a special meeting at the district’s headquarters in Freeland.

In an interview after the meeting, board President Curt Gordon said he couldn’t say for sure whether the anchor line headaches constitute a legitimate or immediate threat to public safety, but that the district wasn’t about to sit idle until it becomes so.

“I don’t know, but I’m not going to wait around to find out,” he said.

The Seattle-based construction firm has two major scopes of work: First, to correct several construction problems or mistakes, including the installation of appropriate hardware and the restringing of  anchor lines that are crisscrossed and rubbing on certain tides; and second, to modify the floats’ outer edges by adding large cleats that will better accommodate large boats such as whale watching vessels. The firm was the lowest of two bidders; Anacortes-based Culbertson Marine Construction offered to do the projects for $227,800.

According to bid specifications, the work must be completed by Jan. 30.

The problem with the anchor line “clump” weight — a large block of concrete — was discovered Nov. 3 by a recreational diver. Marina staff noticed the dock was out of its designed alignment and asked him to take a peek. He confirmed that the weight, which provides downward tension on the line and helps keeps the docks stationary, had fallen free to the seafloor. It’s believed the problem was the result of a missing cotter pin, a piece of metal that prevents a nut from backing off a bolt that serves as a shackle/flexible hinge that moves with the rising and falling of the tides.

Further inspection of the anchor lines revealed that another cotter pin was missing from another joint. Port staff began looking through district records and learned the incorrect materials were likely used during construction, namely cotter pins made of regular steel which subsequently corroded and fell off. The design firm specified the use of stainless steel safety pins, according to Gordon.

Port officials, however, have been aware of other installation problems at the marina for more than a year. The project was completed in early 2014 and a diver discovered months later that five of the 13 anchor lines were touching. Those made of chain appeared OK, but a protective coating over braided lines was wearing away.

The district’s hired engineering firm, Seattle-based Collins Engineers, the same company that performed the underwater survey, released a report in October that said all crisscrossed lines should be fixed within 12 months but that the “abrasion damage to the rope should be repaired immediately.”

The port has performed underwater checks since and provided Collins Engineers with updates. Port Executive Director Angi Mozer said last week that the firm has made it clear it does not appear to be an immediate safety threat.

The port began negotiating with the company that built the expansion, Friday Harbor-based Mike Carlson Enterprises, Inc., shortly after the crisscrossed lines were discovered. The commissioners contend they were installed incorrectly, and contend the work was still under warranty. Company owner Mike Carlson has not returned calls for comment, but his attorney sent letters to the port that claimed the lines were strung as designed and with port approval.

Mediation with an arbitrator was planned earlier this year but the talks never happened; the exact cause is unclear but Gordon and the other commissioners said at a regular meeting earlier this month that part of the delay was that the board wanted to secure bids for the fix as the estimate might assist the port’s attorney in recovering the expenditure. Port officials did not want to wait for Mike Carlson to agree to do the work.

The board made that clear during Wednesday’s special meeting. Commissioner Ed Halloran said he was eager “get this done immediately” as delay could put the district at risk of being liable if an accident were to occur.

“I’d like to be able to stand up and say we did everything we knew we could do at the time,” Halloran said.

Gordon said the crossed anchor lines and cotter pins are enough to suspect that other problems may exist as well, and warrant an immediate award of the bid.

“The point is, I don’t know what else is wrong there,” Gordon said.

Commissioner Jack Ng initially discussed the wisdom of paying for a restringing of the lines if the port is planning to realign the docks in a few years for a later expansion phase. After hearing from Halloran and Gordon, however, he agreed it was prudent and necessary to have the work done immediately.

Along with the bid award, the commissioners also approved a $5,500 contract with Collins Engineers to perform a peer review of the original design firm, Everett-based Reid Middleton, Inc. Basically, the former will go over the latter’s plans and offer an opinion on the design and the quality of their work.

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