SSA contractor left marine hazard in Vineyard Haven

Robert B. Our company says it didn’t realize steel support was so close to surface.

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A barge used by Robert B. Our Co. on an Steamship Authority project left behind a spud that posed a marine hazard. - Rich Saltzberg

A contractor for the Steamship Authority left behind a hazard that local mariners said could “instantly sink” any vessel that struck it.

After doing work for the Steamship Authority this winter, marine contractor Robert E. Our left a broken-off barge spud in Vineyard Haven Harbor, creating a marine hazard, harbormaster John Crocker told The Times. Crocker said he was informed of the danger Friday morning.

The Harwich-based marine contractor was awarded a $350,000 contract from the SSA to repair the seawall adjacent to the slips in Vineyard Haven. That seawall takes a beating from the propellor wash.

Barge operators sought shelter from the March nor’easters behind the Vineyard Haven breakwater, and sank steel spuds — stabilization poles — in doing so, according to shipbuilder Nat Benjamin.

Benjamin said leaving a spud behind was “outrageous,” and that it would “instantly sink” any vessel which hit it.

“It would go right through a boat,” mariner Lynne Fraker said. The barge “never should have been there in the first place,” she added.

Mark Timmerman, project manager for Robert B. Our, told The Times, a diver for the company spotted the danger Friday morning, and he alerted Crocker. The company originally thought the spud broke off at the mud line, but Timmerman said he wanted to be sure.

“We were doing due diligence,” he said. “I chose to make sure. I’m a boater around the Cape. I wouldn’t want to hit it.”

Timmerman could not pinpoint which storm prompted the spud to break. The first nor’easter, the most vicious to harbor vessels, was six weeks ago. That was followed by three more nor’easters over a three-week period.

The company has marked the steel post with a buoy, and is making arrangements to have it removed, Timmerman said.

Late Friday afternoon John Packer, owner of Offshore Engineering, informed The Times his company was tapped to pull the spud. Packer said he expects to do the work next week.

The spud was in a mooring field, not a navigational channel, Timmerman said. “They’re coming in soon, so we wanted to remove it,” he said.

Fraker said several sailing vessels had to remoor because they were too close to the barge. Having the boats tied to different moorings may have contributed to why so many of them blew aground in the hurricane-like nor’easter of March 2, she said.

“I guess they chose to but didn’t have to,” Timmerman said. “We secured it in a place where swing would have been fine.”

Fraker sent an email to Vineyard Haven mariners Friday morning alerting them to the potential hazard.

On Friday morning, Steamship Authority general manager Robert Davis said he was unaware of the hazardous spud. Later he sent an email stating that the company was working to remove the hazard. “I am told they reported it to the harbormaster and it has been marked,” he wrote.

U.S. Coast Guard Ensign Nathan Mendes said the Coast Guard had not been informed of the hazard. “If it’s a navigation hazard, we’d like to know about it,” he said. Anyone who finds a hazard to navigation of any kind should call the Coast Guard command center at 508-457-3211, Mendes said. A Coast Guard unit was expected to investigate the spud hazard as of Friday morning.

Tisbury posted a harbor hazard warning on the town website Friday afternoon.

Robert B. Our’s contract called for 100 linear feet of sheet piling in front of the existing seawall, new concrete to fill the voids that have been created, and replacing the existing steel expansion system between the concrete pier and asphalt parking lot to re-establish the full support of that seawall.

Ralph Packer, owner of Tisbury Towing and Transportation, described Robert B. Our as a “very responsible” company that he’s done business with for 40 years. Packer said the marine contractor keeps a launch at his terminal on Beach Road. They are presently repairing nor’easter damage to the Steamship Authority’s Oak Bluffs terminal, he said.

George Brennan contributed to this report.