From the time they were built in the 1800s to help construct three-masted schooners used for the West Indies trade, the town's East Wharf and West Wharf have been an integral part of the town's identity. They have evolved over the past 200 years from a center of commerce to a favorite fishing spot for many, and a place to sit and watch the many moods of Long Island Sound.
The wharves play a protective role as well. In particular, West Wharf helps protects the pilings where boats are docked in the summer, including Madison Hose Co. No. 1's emergency response boat, and West Wharf helps shield a beach where small children often swim.
After being damaged by Hurricane Irene in August of 2011, the wharves were put on a list of town facilities to repair. The town's engineering department had hoped to not only repair the historic look and feel of wharves, and their protective stone wall revetments, but to also find out whether it would make sense to add an improved deck that would be easier to walk on than the boulders encased in concrete that made up the decks of the old wharves.
Repairs to wharves delayed as town completed and paid for other storm-related recovery and repair costs
The repair of the two wharves were delayed as the town took on repairs to essential roadways like Middle Beach Road and the protective retaining wall at the Surf Club, which were also damaged during Irene. More town funds were needed for repairs after Superstorm Irene. Then the Blizzard of 2013 hit, requiring the town to make another special appropriation of $150,000 for storm cleanup.
And so when town officials went to open the two bids to fully repair East Wharf and West Wharf, and to further enhance them by building an improved deck, they found the price a little higher than they would have liked.
Schumack Engineered Construction of Clinton, CT, which has worked on several town projects including the repairs to Middle Beach Road and to the Surf Club retaining wall, came in with the low bid of $1,244,162. The only other bid was from Machnik Bros. of Old Lyme, CT, which came in with a bid of $1,350,000, said Madison Director of Public Works & Town Engineer Michael J. Ott at a Board of Selectman meeting Monday.
Bids come in much higher than $500,000 special appropriation
The town originally provided for a special appropriation of $500,000 for repairs to both wharves. The bids were substantially higher because, in addition to asking for the bids to cover reconstruction of the wharves and the revetments, the sloping mounds of rock that are placed in a way to protect the wharves, the town also wanted to find out how much it would be to build an improved deck on each of the wharves.
The goal, Ott said, is to retain the historic look of the wharves while at the same time making them as strong as possible, and useful. With that end in mind, he and his staff researched both East Wharf and West Wharf with the help of photos and information from the Madison Historical Society.
"We wanted to keep the historic look of the wharves and at the same time replace the desk with a safer walking surface," he said. The bids were broken up into 11 items so that town could then determine what elements it could afford, he said. Ott said he will now work with the bidders to drop the cost closer to the original estimate of $500,000.
Stone revetments provide more protection than improved deck
"We would probably take out the deck" from the bids, he told the selectmen. "That turned out to be expensive." Ott said the stone revetments are much more important, because they will protect the wharves against the action of the waves.
Selectman Diane Stadterman asked if the deck would make the wharves more structurally sound during storms. Ott said that they would add some protection, but that the stone revetments were the primary protection against waves and storms.
"The wharves were built in the 1800s and conveyed to the town in the late 1800s," he said. "Since that time, they've seen a lot of storms."
Wharves play role in ship building trade in 1800s
According to the Madison Historical Society, East Wharf and West Wharf were the center of Madison's ship building trade in the 1800's:
Madison was noted for its extensive ship building industry at both East and West Wharves, and places along the shore. Twenty-seven different kinds of vessels were constructed. Among them [were] scores of three-masted schooners and ships, used for the West Indies trade. This industry flourished until 1890 when a portion of the yards were destroyed by fire. Since then the trade has never been revived.
Ott said it was his understanding that the wharves were damaged during Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and, at that time, repaired to the way they were prior to that storm. During the upcoming repair, he said, it will be important to ensure that the stone revetments are place at the proper slope to disappate the wave action of Long Island Sound.
Work may be done in stages, with West Wharf first
Ott said, given the fact that $500,000 has been appropriated, it might make sense to do the work in two stages, with one of the wharves rebuilt, and then the second one rebuilt.
"If we stagger the work, if we did West Wharf first, and then East Wharf, we could get the cost down to $600,000 to $800,000," he said.
Ott said the town's Emergency Management Director John Bowers is working with FEMA officials to make sure that the town's request for reiumbursement is correctly conveyed and accepted. If the town's application is accepted, it would be eligible for 75 percent reiumbursement of the eligible costs, he said.
Penny wise and pound foolish?
Stadterman said she did not like the idea of doing the repairs now, without the additional enhancement of the improved deck. "I hate to be penny wise and pound foolish," she said.
Ott said if the town had enough money now, it would make sense to do the work as originally designed, with the improved deck, but if a choice had to be made, it would make more sense to make sure the revetments were properly constructed instead of putting money into the improved deck.
Ott said the project was designed and bid to take about 10 weeks from start to finish.
Why West Wharf is a priority
First Selectman Fillmore McPherson said it probably does make sense to do the work in two phases. He said that West Wharf probably should take priority, since it does protect the pilings where boats are docked during the summer, including one that is used for water rescues and other emergencies.
"My thought it that we let Mike [Ott] continue with the negotiations with the low bidder, taking out the concrete deck, and putting in the revetments, and see if we can get it down to around $300,000 and do one of them," he said.
In the meantime, the town might learn more about how much money it will receive in reiumbursement from Superstorm Sandy recovery and repair, and from the Blizzard of 2013 clean up, he said.
Tail wagging the dog?
Selectman Al Goldberg noted they wharves were built two centuries ago to accomodate the construction of wooden sailing ships.
He said he appreciated that the town's engineers were taking the history of the wharves into account as part of the design and he said it's also important to take into account how the wharves will be used in the future.
"I hope we can do the smart thing, as much as we can, within the constraints," he said. "I hope we don't end up with the tail wagging the dog due to FEMA's constraints."
Utility chase may be included to allow for addition of water and power
Ott noted that, in addition to trying to retain the historic look of the wharves, the engineering plans take into account current needs. He said the plan is to construct a "utility chase" that would allow the town to bring power and water utilities out through the wharves at a later date.
"That would work for the future if we want to plan for dock access, particularly for West Wharf," he said. "We are taking into account today's needs of these historic structures."
McPherson said his goal is to get the bids for both wharves down to between $600,000 and $800,000 for both, or $300,000 to $400,000 for each, with the wharves looking essentially as they did before, but with improved revetments that provide additional protection for future storms. In addition to the discussions with the low bidder, he said, the town will continue to work with FEMA to make sure the town's application is sucessful.