This winter’s frigid weather has damaged many docks and marinas on Long Island, presenting owners with expensive repairs and boaters with hazardous floating debris.
Much of the damage is due to a phenomenon known as ice-jacking, in which water freezes and latches onto pilings, said coastal geologist Aram Terchunian. As the tide rises and falls, the movement repeatedly wrenches the pilings out of the earth, ultimately leaving some leaning and others floating in the water, said Terchunian, who works for First Coastal Corp., an environmental firm with an office in Westhampton Beach.
This winter, with its long stretches of subfreezing temperatures, has been one of the worst seasons in years for ice-jacking. Many waterways transformed into solid blocks of ice, Terchunian said.
Damage has already been spotted across the Island, including in Moriches Bay, Westhampton Dunes, Bellmore, Merrick, Long Beach, Fire Island, Mastic and East Hampton.
Ice-jacking can leave a dock looking like a ski jump. At worst, it can hoist a piling clear out of the earth, creating a bobbing boat accident waiting to happen.
“That makes for a huge navigational hazard,” said Mike Trovitch, owner of Shore Line Bulkheading, a repair firm in Manorville.
Terchunian estimates that thousands of pilings — meaning hundreds of Island docks and marinas — have been affected this winter. That means dock owners, marinas and towns could face repairs costing hundreds to thousands of dollars.
“It is frightening and happening all over Long Island,” he said. “I ran into a friend in the hardware store who was getting rope to keep the piles tethered until we can get there to fix it.”
Seventy-five pilings were damaged at Forge River Marina in Mastic, said Jack Krieger, spokesman for Brookhaven Town, which owns and operates the docks there. Another 30 were jacked upward at Davis Park Marina.
Many of the damaged pilings stick up out of the water at odd angles, clearly higher than those not affected, he said. Town officials expect they’ll spend $750 to $1,000 per piling for repairs.
Repairs will be made by the start of the boating season in May, Krieger said.
Warmer weather, usually a welcome occurrence, can actually worsen the damage. Ice typically props up the dislodged pilings. But when it melts, the pilings are left to tilt and topple, damaging or even dragging down their attached docks in the process. Other pilings just fall and float away, Terchunian said.
Some owners may not yet know their docks and marinas are damaged. Many don’t visit their seashore property until the weather warms.
For now, dock repair contractors say their phones are starting to ring, but they expect a busy season when the spring arrives.
Ice-jacking repairs differ between the North or South shores, said Bob Sikora, owner of Coastal Marine Construction in East Patchogue. South Shore waters are shallower and freeze more quickly. Nearly the entire Great South Bay froze over this winter, something veteran islanders say hasn’t happened in years.
The shallower water can make for easier repairs, since workers can make fixes standing in the water, Sikora said.
North Shore waters tend to be deeper, meaning more expensive repairs. The tides can raise and lower the water level 8 feet or more. Oftentimes, barges are brought in to replace or replant pilings in the earth.
Taking precautions, some people remove their floating docks during the colder months. Numerous marinas and dock owners employ devices to help prevent ice from forming around their structures. Some of these “ice-eaters” keep the water moving or create bubbles, all of which makes it harder for ice to form.
They may need them again soon, Terchunian said.
“Winter is not over,” he noted, “and another deep freeze of a week or two could repeat the situation.”