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Surging ice, winds threaten LI’s docks, bulkheads and marinas

Ice accumulating over partially frozen Great South Bay

Ice accumulating over partially frozen Great South Bay adds stress against bulkheads, docks and pilings such as these, on the southern shore of Lindenhurst during the first major snowstorm of the year on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. Credit: Johnny Milano

Ice and storm surges from the brutal weather beat up docks along some Long Island shores, with the prospect for more damage extending through the winter, a local coastal geologist said Thursday.

In subfreezing temperatures and driving snow, Aram Terchunian checked a few stretches of Moriches Bay and Westhampton Dunes for effects of the phenomenon he calls “ice-jacking” and spotted a handful of damaged docks. He suspects the damage is more widespread.

The storm’s heavy winds created exceptionally high water levels — particularly at high tide. Again and again, he explained, the frozen waters latched onto the docks’ pilings, wrenching them up and down with the changing tide.

“The docks get jacked up out of the bay, and they get twisted and damaged,” said Terchunian, a coastal geologist with First Coastal Corp., an environmental consulting and contracting firm with offices in Westhampton Beach and Newport, Rhode Island.

Many areas around the Island remain at risk of ice-jacking, which can occur wherever the water remains a sheet of ice, he said. Though Thursday’s storm has passed, the risk remains because those areas still will experience rising and falling tides.

Some marinas install special systems, called “ice-eaters,” that help prevent the water from forming into a solid sheet of ice, Terchunian said.

Other areas, where the ice is patchy on the water, could face a different type of damage. Wind-driven ice chunks can crash into docks, bulkheads, marinas and other shoreline structures, he said.

Officials in several Suffolk County locations hard-hit by Thursday’s storm said they had received no reports of damage from ice floes, though such destruction has happened in the past and conditions were ripe for a reoccurrence.

“It’s always a concern of the village,” Ocean Beach Police Chief George Hess said, recalling when the surging ice floes hit Fire Island some years ago. “Bulkheads get chewed up.”

Areas at the greatest risk from ice floes include the north shores of the barrier islands, including Fire Island, as well as the north shore of the South Fork, said Tim Morrin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton.

That’s because the storm’s winds blasted from north to south, with reports of gusts exceeding 50 mph by the water. The greatest danger is in waters where the ice is patchy. Ice floes also can jam up the flow of water, creating the possibility of flooding, Terchunian said.

During Thursday’s storm, ice chunks in New Jersey’s Cape May Canal prompted ferry operators to halt service, and huge chunks of sea ice — some 2 to 4 feet thick — were spotted off Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

In 1979, Long Island ice floes created some bizarre news during a wickedly cold spell. A Volkswagen Beetle, stolen from a Brookhaven resident, was spotted on the ice about a mile off shore in Bellport Bay. The weather eventually warmed and witnesses reportedly spotted it sitting on an ice floe, heading west. The Coast Guard issued a warning to boaters that the floating Bug could be a navigation threat.

Over time, the errant car was found in the waters off Fire Island and was permanently parked in a landfill.

As Thursday’s storm pummeled the region, the shoreline concerns added another layer of anxiety to the winter mess that includes transportation delays, school closings and power outages.

For his part, Terchunian expects to head out again Friday to check areas, including Shinnecock and Peconic bays, where the harbor ice is patchy.

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