Windsor, Ont.’s popular city-owned Lakeview Park Marina, a fixture for almost 40 years on the city’s east side where Lake St. Clair meets the Detroit River, ran into a bit of a problem last year.
Record high water levels swamped the stationary steel structure, forcing the city to close it to the area’s legions of recreational boaters, who use it along with many private marinas that dot the adjacent shoreline.
After some deliberations, city council decided the only way to handle the increasingly high levels of water in recent years was to literally go with the flow. It approved $5.4 million to tear out the outdated and flooded stay-in-place docks and replace them with a floating dock system.
Stationary docks traditionally had been the norm but increasingly seem to be going by the wayside, especially on water bodies like the Great Lakes where water levels have been rising or fluctuating more commonly.
“It seems to be the trend now especially with the unpredictability of the water levels,” said Pier DeSimone, project manager for the installation and the city’s supervisor of facilities. “This way we’re covered both in high water and low water.”
The city shut down the marina in May 2019. Higher water “had started to pop all the deck boards and all our electrical and water was all under water and the ESA (Electrical Safety Authority) basically shut us down,” DeSimone said.
Finding a suitable new dock contractor took some time.
There are not a lot of contractors who specialize in fabricating and installing floating docks and the city had to wait its turn for Kehoe Marine Construction of Lansdowne, Ont., located in the St. Lawrence 1000 Islands region, to begin work.
That process initially began late last year when locally based Facca Inc. began dismantling the old docks using cutting torches but mainly a barge with an excavator did “the brunt of the work,” DeSimone said. Heavy construction equipment, “plucked everything out and disposed of it,” he said.
The old dock footprint was made up of eight “strings” of steel and wood deck boards with individual “fingers” coming off each, making for 208 boat slips. Facca wrapped up the demo just after the new year.
The installer, Kehoe, mobilized a crew the third week of January and began the installation of a similar, if slightly larger, pattern of strings and finger piers.
“We’ve reconfigured the one end so it’s a different footprint,” DeSimone said. “In doing so we were able to add more slips and larger boat slips,” including 60 footers, which the marina previously did not have.
Two slips will be even longer. There will be more slips overall with 230.
The floating steel docks are connected to the shore by hinged ramps or “gangways” so that they will fluctuate as the water levels rise or fall.
The docks themselves, wrapped with wooden decks, are about two feet thick and are supported by hollow tubes that create ballasts so they can float.
“So, the wood deck and all the infrastructure (electrical, water lines, Wi-Fi) should always be above water. If not we have a real problem,” DeSimone quipped.
Kehoe fabricated dock modules at its factory in Lansdowne, then shipped them to Windsor. The segments were connected on land before being dropped by crane into the water and floated to where they were attached, connecting like a Lego set.
These were interlocked essentially by “nuts and bolts” allowing the platforms to undulate slightly in the water, DeSimone said.
The modules are also anchored in the riverbed by heavy duty chains attached either to large concrete blocks cast in place or to existing steel piles cut just above the riverbed.
“It’s very, very stable and we are in an enclosed harbour, so there really isn’t a lot of wave action, although the wind does factor in on certain days,” the official said.
Assembly took place mainly on land or above water but one diver, employed by Kehoe, performed certain underwater tasks.
“That’s probably the most difficult part of the work,” DeSimone said. “As you can imagine it’s not perfectly clear down there and he’s working with power equipment while still in communication with the boat on land and the (boat) crew.”
The diver used hydraulic saws and underwater torches.
“We haven’t done any underwater welding,” DeSimone said. “It’s not a good connection we’re told by the engineers.”
The crew worked through winter and early spring but had to knock off when the work was deemed non-essential under emergency COVID-19 protocols. Installation was halted for five weeks but resumed mid-May.
Some infrastructure, like electrical and Wi-Fi, still needs to be installed. The city hopes the marina, which has a waiting list of boaters seeking dock space, will reopen for at least the last half of summer by the end of July.