For the second year in a row, spring swept in on a turbulent tide at Hamilton’s harbour front. Last year record high water levels ripped up trails, flooded waterside buildings, and delayed cleanup at Randle Reef.
This year one vicious April storm lifted the new breakwall at Harbour West Marina, and twisted it like a piece of rusty wire. Severed pieces of the floating breakwall were retrieved downwind at Bayfront Park, and other sections remain sticking out of the water like bits of a shipwrecked freighter. Two days of steady high winds sent waves hurtling into the marina, damaging docks, many of which are now on shore waiting repairs.
Could anyone have predicted such a failure just over a year after the structure was finished in the harbour? The city opted for a floating breakwall at a cost of $3.3 million, rather than a fixed one. A fixed breakwall was projected to cost $30 million and disrupt fish habitat.
Saving money is a worthy goal, but was it the best choice? When you consider it cost $1.4 million to shave and pave a 2 kilometre portion of potholed Main Street West, $3.3 million to build a floating wall to withstand constant wind and water pressure and storms seems like a remarkable bargain.
The breakwall, also called a breakwater was needed to protect an expanded West Harbour Marina. It has been in the planning stages since 2006. Many documents tracing the breakwall project can be found online, from environmental assessment reports to city council and public meetings. From 2009 to 20012 the city held a series of information sessions and public meetings about the proposed breakwall construction.
In a 2013 Environmental Study Report, the summary included comments from the public. Not half-baked criticisms, but well constructed opinions and questions.
Many people questioned the stability and longevity of a floating breakwall, considering its location in open section of the harbour. Two concerns cropped up repeatedly-Were computer models accurate enough to forecast wave impacts, and was the anchor system robust enough to withstand high winds during a prolonged storm.
In a 2012 document covering the class environmental assessment the conclusion of experts was that a floating breakwall would provide “good protection over 25 to 45 years with minimal maintenance.”
Well that didn’t work out.
Here are some other interesting nuggets gleaned from 12 years worth of studies, proposals and meetings about the breakwall.
Initially the structure was projected to cost $5.5 million. How was $2 million shaved from the price? Early proposals called for a breakwall made of pontoons covered in cement, a structure sturdy enough to walk on and for boats to tie up to if needed. Somehow that fell by the wayside and we ended up with possibly the homeliest breakwall on Lake Ontario.
On April 27 the city met with Kehoe Marine Construction and Brian Riggs Engineering, contractors involved with the construction of the breakwall. A damage assessment is expected soon according to Gavin Norman, manager of the waterfront development office. In the meantime Norman says a quick fix is needed to get boats in the water for the season.
“Although other temporary measures are being considered, Kehoe Marine’s preferred plan is to re-float the breakwater temporarily using buoyancy-bags and intends to mobilize this week and have the work complete by mid-May.”
Ironically one of the most protected areas to dock a boat on Hamilton Harbour will disappear this summer. MacDonald Marine located in a protected cove between Pier 4 and Bayfront Park will cease operation. The city owns the land, the lease is up and they want their property back for park uses. Though MacDonald is seeking a lease extension it looks like that part of Hamilton harbour history is coming to a close.
There have been boats and boat building there by companies such as H.L. Bastien and Askew Boatworks. since the early 1800’s. Lets hope with the ongoing transformation of the West Harbour the rich boating history isn’t forgotten.