Stamford’s Harbor Hobbled by Disrepair and Limited Funding, Local Officials Warn

(CT Examiner)


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STAMFORD – Harbor Master Yale Greenman has found unregistered boats hidden in the bushes along the shore of Kosciuszko Park.

He saw a man pull a small boat from his pickup truck and launch it straight from a city beach, Greenman said.

And, more than once, he’s seen boaters repair finger docks at the slips they rent from the city.

Deputy Harbor Master Frank Fumega, a stickler for safety, has seen recreational boaters speed through a harbor crowded with motor boats, sail boats, tug boats, paddle boats, canoes, kayaks, barges, and yachts.

Like Greenman, Fumega sees main docks with missing and loose planks, finger docks so rotten that they can’t be attached to supportive pilings, and pilings too decayed to render much support.

(CT Examiner)

And, like Greenman, Fumega sees boaters repairing the city-owned slips they rent.

Stamford’s two remaining municipal marinas – the third has not been open since Superstorm Sandy virtually destroyed it in 2012 – are in desperate need of attention, Greenman and Fumega said this week.

“I saw a guy put his line on a cleat to secure his boat on a windy day and the cleat popped off,” Greenman said as he walked the docks at Cove Marina in Cove Island Park. “The hardware on the docks is rusting, and many of the wooden planks are loose or broken or missing.”

Things are “a little worse” at Czescik Marina, Fumega said.

“Except for the pilings,” he said. “The pilings at Czescik aren’t as bad as they are at Cove. At least not yet.”

In a two-week period earlier this month, three dock pilings at Cove Marina broke and fell. No one was hurt, but two of the heavy wooden pilings, which are used to secure slips, struck and damaged two boats.

Three makes ‘a pattern’

Damian Ortelli, chair of the Stamford Harbor Management Commission, told CT Examiner afterward that three fallen pilings “seems like a pattern.” Kevin Murray, the city’s parks and facilities manager, said the aging pilings are rotting below the water line, and the incidents indicate that “more will fail until we upgrade.”

The city has to fix things, said Greenman and Fumega, who both grew up boating in Stamford Harbor.

“Money has to be dedicated to the marinas,” Greenman said. “They have been at the bottom of the priority list for a long time.”

The last time the marinas were in decent shape, Fumega said, “was about 20 years ago.” The city’s marina crew works hard, “but they don’t have the budget to do what they need to do,” he said.

The former harbor master, Eric Knott, said the same thing in 2018, warning of problems to come. 

In Stamford the marinas run on a dedicated fund fueled by boat slip fees and ramp permits. With the Cummings Marina closed, the fund covers operations and some repairs, but budget requests for major investments go unanswered, Murray said at the time.

This week at Cove Marina, Greenman pointed to finger docks branching off a main dock. Some finger docks can no longer hold the bolts that brace them to the supportive pilings. Other finger docks are so rotted that they can’t be rented at all. 

(CT Examiner)

“Missing docks is income lost,” Greenman said. “In the spring we used the harbor master’s boat to tow out five rotted docks.”

The city’s two-man marina crew works hard to make repairs, he said, and they do it without a work boat. 

“They are trying to put a budget together to buy one, but in the meantime we’re helping them out,” Greenman said.

In Connecticut, harbor masters are appointed by the governor and work under the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to supervise harbors and navigable waterways. They earn a stipend of a few hundred dollars. The state’s larger harbors also have a deputy harbor master.

Money used for dredging

Last year Stamford got $3.3 million from the Connecticut Small Harbor Improvement Projects Program, most of it used to dredge a choke point in the harbor channel leading to Cove Marina. Silt was so built up that many boats could come and go only during high tide. That work was finished over the winter.

Dredging is underway to allow reopening of the boat ramp at West Beach, work expected to be completed in the spring.

Cove Marina also has to be dredged, but funding for that is not yet in place, Murray has said.

Fumega said his best estimate for the cost of all the marina repairs at Cove and Czescik is at least $8 million. He pointed to a portion of the Cove Marina retaining wall, called a bulkhead, that is falling into the water.

“Fixing something like that gets very expensive,” Fumega said.

Such work cannot be funded only with the revenue brought in by boat slip and other fees, he said.

The city charges $409 a season to rent the smallest-size slip at Cove, which is for a boat less than 17 feet long. The charge for the largest slip, which is for a boat 25 feet to 27 feet long, is $1,647.

The charge at Czescik Marina is $757 a season for the smallest slip. Czescik offers slips larger than the largest at Cove. They are for boats 28 feet to 32 feet and are rented for $2,157 a season.

According to the city budget, revenue from marina fees and ramp permits amounted to $315,000 last fiscal year, and marina operations had to be supplemented by $157,000 from the general fund. 

“Boaters are always complaining about the disrepairs. Just about all of them are Stamford residents who pay the fee for their slip and pay taxes, and they are frustrated that things don’t get done,” Fumega said.

Czescik Marina has 189 slips and nearly all, 98 percent, are rented. Cove Marina has 212 slips and 85 percent are rented.

Get out of a tug boat’s way

The harbor is a busy place, Fumega said. He estimates that, on a nice weekend day during the season, there are 300 recreational boats in Stamford Harbor. Commercial boat trips vary day to day, but “in a typical week, there are 20 to 24 barges and tugs in and out of the harbor,” Fumega said.

The harbor traffic amplifies the risks posed by the disrepairs, he and Greenman said.

‘A tug and a barge are barely maneuverable. They can’t slow down and stop,” Greenman said. “You have to get out of their way.”

The city doesn’t have launches for kayaks, paddle boats and other small vessels, Greenman said, so people launch from beaches and other unsafe places.

“There are kayak and paddle boat rentals in the harbor. There is the SoundWaters school. There are two time-share boat clubs with boaters who tend to be inexperienced,” he said. “Many people bought boats during COVID because boating is an outdoor activity, and the general boater IQ out there dropped. We see small unregistered boats overloaded with people and boaters who don’t have a license and don’t know what they’re doing. One of these problems can be handled, but when you add one problem after another problem, after another, you’re asking for trouble.”

Stamford “has one of the nicest natural harbors on Long Island Sound. There are tons of waterfront restaurants, which draw boats from New York and New Jersey,” Greenman said. 

It should not be full of risks, the harbor masters said.

“This is about money. The city is going to have to spend the money,” Fumega said.

“You can’t find this commodity, a beautiful harbor, anywhere else,” Greenman said. “Why would you not take care of it?”

Angela Carella

For 36 years prior to joining the Connecticut Examiner, Angela Carella was a beat reporter, investigative reporter, editor and columnist for the Stamford Advocate. Carella reports on Stamford and Fairfield County. T: 203 722 6811.