Elks issue retort to Bristol's marina analysis

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 2/22/24

A battle between the Bristol County Elks’ Club and the Town of Bristol regarding their claim that increased wave turbulence from the town’s marina has caused a safety concern at their own dock rages on.

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Elks issue retort to Bristol's marina analysis


A battle between the Bristol County Elks’ Club and the Town of Bristol regarding their claim that increased wave turbulence from the town’s marina has caused a safety concern at their own dock rages on, with the most recent update coming during the February meeting of the Town Council.

According to members of the Bristol County Elks’ Club, the trouble became apparent during the summer of 2022,  after the installation of the Town Marina’s wave attenuating pier. Members who had long enjoyed visiting the club via Bristol Harbor were finding the chaotic wave action at their dock was making boat handling challenging on the many days when summer’s prevailing winds were out of the south/southwest.

Last spring, following what they assert were several months of requests and inaction by the Harbor Commission and Harbormaster’s office, members sent a letter to Town Administrator Steven Contente. At the center of the issue: Was an analysis on the impact of the Marina design on abutters ever performed, and if not, why?

The Elks came before the Town Council in May of 2023 and requested use of 8 slips at the Town Marina until such time as the issue could be resolved. At that meeting, Elks member Eric Gardner of Barrington spoke up in support of the Club.

“We feel this is a valuable asset that's been diminished,” he said. “And our bigger concern is that the fact that there was no impact study done for any of the abutters to this Marina, because it wasn't asked for, is not a a good excuse, as far as we're concerned.”

The compromise, which was in effect this summer, was that if conditions warranted, and there was space available, members could tie up during Elks opening hours.

Nearly a year later, it does not appear that the Elks are any closer to satisfaction in this dispute.

Engineering analysis finds “not a lot of affect”

Vice President Todd Turcotte and Senior Project Engineer Brian Dutra of the Waterfront/Marine Group of Pare Corporation appeared at the Town Council meeting of Wednesday, Feb. 7 and presented the results of an analysis they performed of the wave action at the Club’s docks.

Noting that they did not do a full wave rendering analysis, which would cost the Town about $30,000, they characterized their study as a limited wave probability study. They observed the wave action on several days that presented winds coming from the south-southwest at speeds ranging from 15 to 27 mph.

Using information from reference materials including the Design of Marine Facilities and the ASCE Design Guidelines for Small Craft Harbors, Pare used the standard of a 1-foot (or smaller) wave being good berthing conditions, with 1.25 being acceptable.

They determined that a 6-inch wave incoming to the attenuator would reflect a 1-foot wave back to the Elks, if 100% of the wave were reflected (which is not the case, as some is absorbed by the attenuator.) They then looked at how often from May 1 to Oct. 31, 2023, between the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., there were winds that would cause those less-than-ideal conditions.

They determined that those conditions existed during 110 of the 2,562 hours they characterized as the 2023 “boating season”, or about 4.5% of the time. “We don’t really see a lot of affect there,” said Turcotte.

They also pointed out that there are other variables that could be impacting the wave action at the Elks dock, including the fact that the Coast Guard Station’s wave-attenuating fence is in disrepair, and that the Elks’ own seawall, behind their pier, is exacerbating the problem.

Councilor Mary Parella asked what impact the weather might have on the study, and Turcotte admitted that the 2023 season, which was the only data they used, was a fair weather season.

Asked for his input, Harbor Master Gregg Marsili mentioned that, as the former head officer at the Coast Guard Station, he is familiar with conditions on both sides of the Elks dock. He noted that Elks members used the Marina twice; once in moderate conditions and once in conditions that did not really rise to the level of their agreement. He suggested willingness to continue the arrangement, but with a more formal memorandum of understanding for the 2024 season.

Elks disagree with Town’s findings

Speaking on behalf of the Elks, Gardner noted that Pare was the engineering firm that did the initial work on the Marina. Turcotte responded that he and Dutra were not involved with the original design and took this analysis on independently. Gardner also asked why no impact study was done prior to construction of the Marina, to which Turcotte replied that the project received necessary approvals from the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“There was never a question of wave study to the Elks,” he said. “This design is not uncommon in these environments.”

“We’re at a disadvantage,” said Gardner. “We had no notice and no idea that this (presentation) was going to happen…We were not afforded the same courtesy and we ask for more time for our engineer to review the Pare study.”

Sheila Belanger, a Bristol resident and an Elks member on the dock committee, was a Coast Guard captain for 35 years. “We had hardly any wind, that’s why we had only two people (using the Marina). It was calm,” she said, adding that “The town should’ve hired an independent contractor, not someone who might be part of the problem.”

Elks member Timothy Palmer pointed out that it may have been a mistake to do the study from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. because typically the highest wind is when the Elks want to use the docks, between 4 and 8 p.m. “They should refine the data and use the data from when the Elks are actually wanting to use their docks.” Turcotte admitted they did not design the study around the Elks opening hours but rather around what they assumed would be likely boating hours.

Member Rick Baccus said his chief concern is about the seawall. “We need to understand the long-term impact on our seawall,” he said, adding “We’re open to some kind of partnership with the Town.”

Elks have their own report

The Elks spent some $6,000 on an independent report by Harbor Engineering of Barrington in June of 2023, and said that had they been aware that this issue was returning to the Town Council’s docket, they would have arranged to have their own experts on hand to rebut Pare’s claims.

The study concluded, in part, that “Failures at several steps through the process led to the authorization of a project that has negatively impacted a direct abutter and compromises their ability to safely use their authorized commercial dock structure.” It notes that before the Town Marina, waves at the Elks dock were in the same direction as the wind which made docking a vessel straightforward, and that the summer breeze out of the south usually left the Elks dock protected by the Coast Guard pier.

“Now that the Town's project is installed, waves bounce/reflect off the Town's floating attenuator and the USCG pier and create a confused sea state that is difficult for boaters to manage as they approach the Elks Lodge dock or attempt to leave their boat at the dock for a few hours,” the report finds. “In addition, the confused and magnified wave climate caused by the Town's floating attenuator increases the chances of future problems occurring for the seawall and clubhouse.”

The report further asserts that regulatory applications failed to identify the potential negative impacts on the Elks, and there is justification to rescind permits “based on the false, incomplete and inaccurate information provided.” Mitigation recommendations suggested in the Harbor Engineering report include restoring the Marina back to its former configuration; have the Town provide slips for Elks Lodge membership; and/or modify the Town's marina expansion.

‘Receive and file,’ says Council, without closing the door

“We have to look at what’s in front of us, and our engineers are telling us that the effect is minimal and that the operational ability of the Elks floats are impacted 4.5% of the time,” said Council Chairman Nathan Calouro. “It does not justify spending $30,000 on a more detailed study.”

“We are also charged with making good decisions, and does it makes that sense to spend that kind of taxpayer money if everybody we are trusting, our engineers, our harbormaster, are telling us no, it does not.”

“We value you, you’re extremely important to the community,” said Councillor Tim Sweeney to the assembled Elks members. “But I have to look at the facts of the case and at this time based on Pare’s analysis and recommendations from the Harbormaster, I move to receive and file.”

“We are just taking action on this report and leaving open the door for more cooperation with the Elks,” said Councillor Mary Parella. Councillor Tony Teixeira agreed. “We are still willing to partner and step in. Go ahead and get back to us with your report.”

“We are always open to new information,” said Calouro.

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