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Anger over boating hazard
Concrete blocks left by coast guard beside public boat launch in Fort Simpson

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, July 25, 2013

Boaters in Fort Simpson who damaged their boats and propellers on concrete blocks beside the public boat launch are looking for answers and compensation from the Canadian Coast Guard.

NNSL photo/graphic

Herb Norwegian holds a boat propeller that he damaged on concrete blocks left by the coast guard beside the public boat launch in Fort Simpson. The blocks were removed on July 16, but not soon enough for other boaters who also suffered damages. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

Herb Norwegian has a boat propeller with a piece missing from one of the blades to show from his run in with the group of concrete blocks. Last fall the coast guard offloaded a number of large concrete blocks directly beside the public boat launch in Fort Simpson along with a number of buoys, said Norwegian.

The blocks, which have chains encased in their tops, are used to anchor buoys in the river. When boaters began putting their boats in the water in the spring the problems started.

Norwegian said he's heard of at least 10 residents who have damaged either their boat trailers, boats, propellers or engines as a result of the concrete hazards.

"It's been a problem for everyone that's got boats in town," he said.

While the water in the river was still covering the blocks, some people backed over them, hanging up their boat trailers. Others hit the blocks while coming in to land.

"You don't expect anything like that," said Norwegian.

The river bed beside the boat launch has always been flat before with no obstacles for boaters to worry about, he said.

The coast guard had a local contractor remove the blocks from the river on July 16, but not soon enough for Bob Norwegian.

Bob gouged the side of his flat bottom scow while coming in to land with a full load in early July. The scow is only made of half-inch thick plywood, so it is susceptible to damage, he said. Bob hopes the coast guard, who he plans to write a letter to, will at least provide him with the material necessary to make repairs.

Bob said he was aware the coast guard had left the blocks in the river, but that some of them had been shifted by the river ice during break-up.

"You're not sure exactly where they were sitting," he said.

When the water level in the river dropped in mid July, the tops of about seven of the blocks became visible. Bob said he was surprised to find out, as the contractor removed them, that there were 22 blocks in total in the river.

The coast guard should have at least put a marker up warning boaters, Bob said.

This is negligence and laziness on the part of the coast guard, he said. The buoys, which were removed earlier, and the anchors should have been stored by the government boat launch, which is also located along the Mackenzie River bank closer to the centre of Fort Simpson.

Rod Gunderson agrees. Gunderson is the secretary and acting president of the Fort Simpson Boaters Association. The association has a private lease for the land the public boat launch is on. The association cleared the parking lot and created the road down to the launch and also poured cement pads for two separate boat launches, the most recent three years ago.

Gunderson said the coast guard should have been using the government boat launch.

"They shouldn't have been there in the first place," he said about the blocks.

Gunderson damaged his boat trailer and scratched his aluminum jet boat on the anchors. He is willing to help any other local boaters submit claims for damages caused by the concrete blocks to the coast guard.

Neccessary due to water levels

Placing anchor blocks at the public boat launch isn't the Canadian Coast Guard's normal procedure, but was necessary due to late fall weather conditions and river levels, stated Dan Bate in an e-mail.

Bate, a communications officer with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said the Canadian Coast Guard ship Dumit was late on its return trip down the Mackenzie River, which led to the buoys and anchors being removed from the river later than usual. Weather and river conditions led to the public boat launch being the only accessible place in Fort Simpson to offload the 35 anchor blocks and other equipment on Oct. 28.

Staff with the Canadian Coast Guard Maritime and Civil Infrastructure from Hay River tried to move the blocks to a higher site later in the month, but couldn't access the site because the ferry was no longer running, said Bates. After they were covered in water in November, a decision was made to leave the blocks and retrieve them later in the year.

Several attempts were made to recover the blocks in the winter and spring, but ice conditions and high water prevented the efforts, he said. In June, a Canadian Coast Guard vessel removed 13 blocks that were visible.

Once the coast guard became aware the river levels were low enough to locate the remaining blocks, due to a call from Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly on July 15, the anchors were removed.

When asked about compensation for boaters, Bates wrote the Canadian Coast Guard, "is not aware of any specific damage related to the placement of the anchor blocks."

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