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Indianola dock closed; commission cites safety concerns
INDIANOLA — The Port of Indianola has closed the dock to the public for one month in response to an engineer’s concerns about the ability of the dock to accommodate Independence Day crowds.
“The timing sucks,” Port Commissioner Jeff Henderson said Friday, the day after a special commission meeting on the matter June 27. “It’s the first week of July, the weather’s going to be gorgeous and we just rained on everybody’s parade.”
On Friday, port officials placed a barrier across the dock entrance. The closure comes a week before the Fourth of July holiday, when the beach and dock is crowded with people enjoying summer weather and watching Seattle’s fireworks display. In addition, a local fireworks display is planned for July 6, according to Dave Haley of the Indianola Beach Improvement Club.
About 80 of the historic dock’s pilings may need to be replaced, according to the commission, and Coasts and Harbors Engineering has been contracted to do a short- and long-term assessment of work that needs to be done.
During a recent site visit, when engineers walked the dock, “it swayed,” Commissioner Joan Wald said Friday. “There’s more than that. We know there are issues and we need to know how safe it is. I totally support the vote.”
A special commission meeting is scheduled July 23 to review the engineer’s assessment and recommendations. A property tax levy increase will also be discussed.
Wald said the sway was felt where the pilings are longest, near the dock’s entrance. Henderson said several pilings are original.
Concerned about the adequacy of the dock for holiday crowds, the engineer recommended closing it.
“The dock is a wooden structure, and with any wooden structure you can anticipate some movement,” Henderson said. “Caution — that’s what led us to the decision. We have no control over human behavior on the dock. We have no ability to police it and say, ‘There are X number of people on the dock. You have to wait until someone comes off.’”
It doesn't take much effort to make the dock sway, according to Commissioner Judith Frank. Two members of the improvement club, for example, walked out on the dock and were able to make it sway when the tide was out, she said. Even a small group of people could put the dock's infrastructure and public safety at risk, she said.
Haley said approximately 200 people traditionally crowd the dock during the Fourth. Henderson agreed with that estimate.
The dock closure was met with a mixed reaction during the special meeting. Frank estimated between 35-40 Indianola residents attended. Some residents said "absolutely, close it," she said. Others just wanted the dock closed during high-use times. However, because the dock cannot be "policed" constantly, port commissioners took the safe route and completely closed the historical landmark.
If commissioners can find a "quick fix" that stabilizes the dock, Frank said the port may have enough money to cover it.
Haley, an engineer who attended the commission meeting, said he understands the commission’s decision, but believes it’s “overkill.”
“I’m an engineer — though I’m not that type of engineer — but I understand the liability issues. The letter [from the engineers] says the dock is unsafe with ‘large numbers’ of people on it. Without the ability to define that, you’ve got to be conservative.”
Haley said the dock’s closure will have a huge impact on the community.
“There will be a lot of people upset. This is a big thing for Indianola. We all love our dock.”
The dock was built in 1916 to accommodate boats and passenger ferries, according to the port district’s website. The port district was established in 1933 and the dock was widened and reinforced to accommodate vehicle access. Ferry service to Indianola ended in 1951 and, since then, the 900-foot dock has been used for recreational use.
The dock is an icon of Indianola, a reminder of the Mosquito Fleet days and a centerpiece of community life. Boats dock and people swim, fish and drop crab pots from a float at the end of the dock.
“I caught lots of bullhead [from the dock],” said Henderson, who’s 52 and grew up in Indianola. “I spent hours out there with a drop line. It’s where I learned how to get a hook out of a fish’s mouth ...
“Being a teenager in Indianola, it’s where we all got to know each other. Indianola’s a pretty amazing place because it’s so generational, and the dock was the essential gathering spot. Whether jumping off the dock, just sitting on the railing and talking, it’s just a gathering point, a great place to watch the sunset or look at the mountains.”
— Reported by Kipp Robertson and Richard Walker of the North Kitsap Herald