STONINGTON — Built upon large cuts of Westerly granite early in the 19th century, and known long ago as Steamboat Dock, then later Longo's Dock, the Stonington Town Dock anchors the village of Stonington as the backbone connecting Stonington to the sea and the generations of fishermen who set sail from the pier.
The Town Dock’s South Pier is as important to the town's history as the boats those fishermen debarked in. South Pier was built in the 1830s and is located just south of the North Pier of the Town Dock area, extending approximately 450 feet into Stonington Harbor.
The pier is leased by the Southern New England Fisherman’s & Lobstermen’s Association, whose members dock their boats there and use its facilities. But it is deteriorating, and doing nothing and allowing it to crumble is not an option. According to First Selectman Rob Simmons, that's what was decided at a community meeting held in late August that was attended mostly by fishermen.
The consensus that night was that covering it in sheet metal is not a realistic option. The only option is to repair, and where necessary, rebuild.
The meeting, held at La Grua Center, was convened to allow residents the chance to take a look at design options for the dock.
“Community leaders initiated a project to evaluate the condition of the South Pier and develop plans to ensure that this asset is in good repair for the future,” Simmons said.
But Simmons said “portions are collapsing in the middle” of the pier. Indeed, during the Blessing of the Fleet in July, a section of the pier was roped off.
Simmons said fishermen are concerned.
Engineers contracted by the town found a section on the north wall of the pier with a “partial wall collapse/missing stones.” The report reads that the “paved deck area above this wall ‘cavity’ does not exhibit any ground loss or settlement, but to minimize surcharge loading on the compromised section of wall the area was delineated and identified as a ‘No Load’ zone; a steel plate has been placed over the area by the Town.”
Simmons warned that doing nothing could put the community, and the fleet, at risk. Stonington Director of Planning Jason Vincent agreed when he told The Sun in August that the town’s been cautioned that dock repairs undertaken in 2009 are “failing.”
In the engineers' report, based on an “above and below” inspection conducted in late January 2019 that included divers, it was found that the ancient “stone walls are generally in fair condition but exhibit local deterioration with minor to severe defects, including voids in the wall, loose stones, missing stones, or minor bulging. There are several areas where, over time, vertical piles, horizontal wales and tie rods were used to provide supplemental support and improve stability of the stone wall.”
And so the idea is to repair and replace those stones.
Paid for with a Connecticut Port Authority $250,000 grant, the town engaged the engineering firm, Stantec Inc., to develop five options on how to protect South Pier. An option will be chosen, design plans will be created, and after town planning approvals by the Waterfront Commission, the town will then find funding to pay for the project.
This is not happening tomorrow. But Simmons said it is happening.
“(South Pier) was built in the 1830s and it’s amazing that it's still up. We want to keep the character of the dock, made from cut stones, and make it safe for another 15 to 20 years,” he said.
Simmons said he received an “extensive email from the town engineer on the possible options for dealing with the restoration work.” He said an engineering study for the Port Authority grant application ran 40 pages.
“We have more or less completed the engineering work on the pier, now we have to come up with a detailed examination as we look at options for repair.”
Simmons said the first option was to “do nothing,” and “obviously that’s not an option,”
The second and third options provide different but similar, plans to “reconstruct the stone pier from the water line up and keep the character,” he said.
The report says alternative number two would consist of “localized repairs,” and alternative number three consists of stone masonry reconstruction.
The local repairs would consist primarily of repairing wall voids with grout bags. The empty grout bags would be placed into the voids and then pumped full of grout. As the grout bags expand, they would fill the hole and the irregularities of the voids. The grout then hardens, and the voids are permanently filled.
And for the collapsing middle, that repair would involve “excavation and demolition of the local area of the collapse and limited demolition of the timber apron. A concrete wall with tie rods will be formed and poured in the place of the wall collapse. The area inshore of the pier will be lined with geotextile fabric, backfilled with crushed stone and paved over," the report says.
There are other repairs listed but the entire option two plan would cost $1.8 million and would last around 15 years, but would still be vulnerable to storms, the report reads.
Option three, which Simmons said is also under consideration, includes “removal and reconstruction of the stone seawall above the base stone foundation.” This option would cost $5.6 million, last for 50 years and though more stable than a patchwork stone wall repair, would still be storm-vulnerable.
The fourth and fifth options included using coverings on the existing pier, Simmons said, “like sheet metal,” adding those two were not options the town would — or should — consider.
But the report says options four and five are construction of a new concrete seawall and a new steel sheet pile bulkhead.
Option four would include removing the existing stone wall on all three sides of the pier down to the full-width stone foundation and replacing the upper stone wall with a reinforced concrete seawall at a cost of $7.2 million and like option three, would last half a century. Like the previous options, it would still be vulnerable to a major storm.
The final option would include installing a steel sheet pile bulkhead around the north, west, and south sides of the pier. The sheet-pile walls on the north and south sides would be tied to each other via a cross-lot tie-rod system. It would cost $6.3 million and last 50 years, and with tweaks every 10 years, well beyond. The steel sheet pile bulkhead plan would “have the highest resiliency of any alternative, since it is much less susceptible to damage from wave action and flooding.”
The last two options were not being considered, Simmons said.
“We’re going for two and three,” he said, adding that those options appeared to be the consensus at the community meeting held on Aug. 29.
Simmons said that he’s committed to seeing South Pier repaired for the community and for the fleet.
“I’ve been an advocate for 30 years,” he said of the fishing fleet, which survives in part because of the South Pier. “It’s our history.”
To view the report, visit http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/gis/coastalaccessmaps/Coastal_Access_Site_630.pdf.