วันศุกร์ที่ 26 ธันวาคม พ.ศ. 2551

Yacht Basin construction continues

By David Snow (Contact) | Demopolis Times
Published Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Demopolis Yacht Basin construction continues, as it will grow to 350 slips, becoming the largest marina on the Tombigbee River.

The project is still in its infancy, but when completed, the 350 slips will be more than four times the current number of 80 slips in the basin.

“Essentially, what we’re doing right now is digging a hole,” said Yacht Basin owner Fred Hansard. “The end product ends up with a marina site in it, but we’re still two years out before we get into it.”

Hansard said the preliminary cost of the construction was $6 million to $7 million for the total project.

“We wish we had done this a lot sooner, but you just have to get started when you can,” he said. “We started in 2002. By the time we get through, we will have moved 1.2 million yards of material to create this hole. We took out everything that we could take out by trackhoe, and now, we’re actually dredging it out. We’re taking it down to 16 feet, which is going to be nice.”

Hansard said the 350 slips would make this the largest marina on the waterway, challenged only by Iuka, Miss.

“The economic impact on this area would be tremendous,” he said. “Even when we start to build on it, though, we wouldn’t put 350 slips in right off. It would be a steady growth, but the full capacity would be 350 slips.

“One of the big markets that we’re looking at is the retirement community. There’s 78 million retirees — ‘Baby Boomers’ — that are fixing to retire over the next five years. I know at one time, they said that each retired person is the equivalent of a $400,000 to a $600,000 business because of the amount of money they bring into the area. Multiply that by 350, and that’s a pretty good chunk.”

Hansard said he would likely sell individual lots, although any other plans are “just on the drawing board” at this point.

“I’d like to look at a condo complex down the road, after we get this in,” he said. “In the next month, we’re fixing to open our third dry-storage yard. That’s a big business.”

Hansard said that the location of the yacht basin at Demopolis is significant.

“Hurricane season opened up a big avenue for us,” he said. “Anything above the 32-parallel (of latitude) is highly important., and we sit at the 32-31 (32 degrees, 31 minutes north latitude). So, we are just prime for all this. You get below the 32-parallel, you end up in what they call coastal waters, and insurance companies don’t like that during hurricane season.”

Because of the higher insurance rates on boats that are docked south of the 32n parallel, the Demopolis site is the marina located as far south as you can go without the higher insurance rates going into effect. For that reason, many people dock their boats here to avoid the higher rates. As the crappie swims, Demopolis is 230 miles from the Gulf coast, a boat trip of about two to three days.

The Demopolis Yacht Basin opened in 1985, and Hansard has been with it since 1986. The construction is certainly the most significant development since its opening, and can be equally significant to the businesses and economy of the City of Demopolis.

วันเสาร์ที่ 20 ธันวาคม พ.ศ. 2551

Benefit dinner planned for Diver Ed

BAR HARBOR — When the M/V Seal was dashed against the shoreline of Bar Island in late November, the lives of owners Ed “Diver Ed” Monat and Edna Martin were tossed about like flotsam as well. Despite the storm’s ravaging effects, the couple’s spirits were buoyed by the community response when the time came for removing the remnants of their livelihood from the shoreline.

The support continues this Saturday, Dec. 20, at the Town Hill Community Hall when the West Eden Village Improvement Society (VIS) hosts a winter celebration and public supper with all of the donations being given to Diver Ed and Edna.

Richard Simis, whose wife, Lilea, is a member of the West Eden VIS, was available for comment. “Every month we put on a free public dinner and we have known Eddie and Edna for 20 years or so,” said Mr. Simis. “When we heard their boat sank we thought, ‘Why don’t we do a benefit for them?’ It seemed like the thing to do.”

Area establishments such as the Town Hill Country Store, Mother’s Kitchen, and others usually provide food items for the public supper, but the VIS is seeking other donors because they are “expecting a larger crowd than usual because it is for Eddie and Edna,” Mr. Simis said.

Many of the losses suffered from the devastating storm were not covered by the insurance on the boat. Mr. Monat had loaded the boat with supplies for a charter dive, a checkout dive for his students and all of his equipment for the Dive-In Theater. All of that gear was lost in the grounding.

“We lost about $50,000 worth of stuff that wasn’t covered,” Diver Ed said. “That was the hard part. We lost a lot of that stuff. We found our brand new camera smashed up. We had to have three of everything on the boat, backups for backups. That camera we hadn’t even used yet. We might have salvaged the cable out of it and that was the least expensive part of it, about a thousand bucks.”

The list of losses goes on from there. “It is hard even thinking about it. There was so much stuff that it is hard to even put a finger on it,” Mr. Monat said. “We had our whole shop down forward, the gear for students on board, we were trying to get all of that done before scallop season started. It is the time of year where we do a little bit of everything.”

In 2000, Mr. Monat established Diver Ed’s Dive-In Theater, a tour in which the customer stays high and dry on the deck of the Seal while Diver Ed peruses the ocean floor seeking out various critters to talk about. Sometimes he brought the creatures aboard for the visitors to experience them up close and personally. Education about the marine environment was the primary motivation.

The Seal was also used for commercial scallop diving and chartered dive tours. The League of Underwater Superheroes is a loosely formed dive club comprising of a group of zany characters who gather on a regular basis to dive and explore the waters surrounding Mount Desert Island with the Seal as their base of operations.

The Town Hill Winter Celebration begins at 4 p.m. A bonfire and caroling by the tree is also on the agenda for the evening. Tractor rides and a public supper are also planned.

The public supper is scheduled to go from 5 to 7 p.m. The Town Hill Community Hall is next to the fire station on Route 102 in Town Hill.

The community outpouring has not gone unnoticed by the couple. “It makes me feel like I have been having the impact on people that I have been meaning to have,” he said. “The whole purpose of what we are doing is to educate people and have a good time at the same time. Obviously, there are enough people in the community that feel like that is an important thing so it makes me feel good to think that I am doing a good job of that.”

The details of the future are unclear, but the one thing for sure – Diver Ed will keep on going: “The worst part is that I lost my boat. The best part is that everywhere I go everyone has been supportive right from when we had to clean up the mess to now. No matter what we do we are going to have a long haul ahead of us getting ready for spring.”

วันศุกร์ที่ 12 ธันวาคม พ.ศ. 2551

Case over for blast victims

Karen Savini saw two homes destroyed in a chemical explosion at a factory in Danversport two years ago, costing her thousands of dollars and saddling her with several hundred thousand dollars in new mortgage debt.

But she expects to get only about 20 cents for every $1 she spent to rebuild her properties, as part of a $7 million settlement to resolve a class action lawsuit. The settlement fulfills terms of the nonprofit Danversport Trust set up by residents and business owners.

"There isn't a lot of money to go around," said Savini, whose homes are on Bates and Riverside streets. "A lot of people lost a lot of money with this. None of us will be getting very much."

Multiple lawsuits filed by insurance companies against CAI Inc. of Georgetown and Arnel Co. of Danvers, which jointly operated the factory, are also covered in the settlement. Residents formed the nonprofit Danversport Trust last year to work out a settlement. Separately, a class action lawsuit was filed by a boat owner in December 2006. Lawyers for each group decided last year to work together on a single settlement.

The $7 million represents the total amount of insurance the two companies carried on the factory, which exploded in a fireball Nov. 22, 2006. More than 100 homes, including 26 that had to be torn down and rebuilt, were damaged, along with businesses, boats, and personal property. People have until Nov. 30 to file claims for the settlement. About 200 to 300 claims could be received by the deadline, a lawyer for the residents said.

The settlement calls for $5.5 million to go to insurance companies that have already paid claims estimated at $25 million to residents, businesses, boat owners, and other victims. Since insurance companies are receiving about 20 cents on the dollar paid out, residents can expect to receive the same rate, a lawyer for residents said.

"There is really no explanation as to why they only had $7 million," said Peter A. Lagorio, one of three lawyers representing residents. "It's clear there is not a lot to go around."

Savini said residents, many of whom lived in hotels or apartments for more than a year, know there is limited insurance to go around. But that does not mean they are happy, she said.

"People are just not happy with how their lawyers handled things," she said. CAI and Arnel "lawyers were pretty tough."

W. Paul Needham, a lawyer for CAI and Arnel, said the settlement agreement was the safest financial route for the company. "It was settled for insurance coverage," he said. "It allowed them to move on with their business. It was hard to say 'no' to that."

วันอาทิตย์ที่ 7 ธันวาคม พ.ศ. 2551

Danish Warship Rescues Suspected Pirates

A Danish warship rescued a group of suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday after receivnig a distress signal from the ship, which was floundering in heavy seas, the Danish Navy said.
The Naval Operational Command said the Absalon was bound by international law to help the men and that Danish sailors had uncovered a number of weapons onboard the vessel similar to those often used in pirate attacks on merchant ships.

"Due to the weather, it was not possible to take the troubled ship in tow and it was destroyed in the interest of shipping safety," the Navy said in a statement.

The men were later handed over to authorities in Yemen.

A surge in piracy this year in waters off Somalia has pushed up insurance costs, brought pirate gangs tens of millions of dollars in ransoms and prompted foreign navies to rush to the area to protect merchant shipping.

Pirates are holding about a dozen ships and nearly 300 crew. Among the captured vessels is Ukraine's MV Faina and a Saudi tanker loaded with $100 million of oil.

วันจันทร์ที่ 1 ธันวาคม พ.ศ. 2551

More than 2 months after Ike, oysters take shellacking

At least 60 percent of the crop in Galveston Bay is destroyed, and it will take years and a lot of cash to make things right again
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

When fishermen drag the bottom of Galveston Bay, they are harvesting more than oysters these days. They may snag lumber, a water heater or possibly a television.

Yet even when the fishermen manage to avoid the junk, they're not scooping up the mountains of fresh oysters they are accustomed to seeing.

State authorities estimate at least 60 percent of the oyster crop has been killed. They blame Hurricane Ike's surge on Sept. 13 for burying critical shell reefs where oysters have grown for centuries.

"More and more oysters are dying every day," said Ben Nelson, who at age 70 has operated a large oyster house in Smith Point in southern Chambers County for more than three decades.

Damage to this bay, he said, also will be felt at the dinner table. That's because Galveston Bay usually produces 80 percent of the oysters harvested in Texas, or 3 million pounds worth about $10 million.

In fact, Texas and Louisiana supply 60 percent of the oysters nationwide that customers, especially on the East Coast, pry open and fry or eat raw on the half shell.

Ike's damage was much worse than the destruction caused by Hurricane Alicia in 1983, "or any other hurricane that I've seen," Nelson said.

Lisa Halili, owner of another large oyster house in San Leon south of Kemah in Galveston County, agreed.

"When oysters stay buried so long, they will die. Our oyster production is down 70 to 80 percent from what we used to get. We need to get the debris and silt off these reefs."

At the same time, she and others in her industry are trying to rebuild after suffering catastrophic damage to their boats, docks and buildings.

Ike was by far the worst storm on record for the oyster industry in Galveston Bay, said Lance Robinson, Texas Parks and Wildlife's regional director for coastal fisheries.

Based on a survey of the oyster reefs, this year's crop should be much smaller, Robinson said.

Sediment problem
After oysters spawn, the larvae must cement to a hard surface before they can metamorphose into an oyster. The reefs made from stacks of old oyster shells would normally provide the perfect breeding ground — except that sonar showed the reefs were covered with soft sediment.

"We know some other reefs that were silted over 30 years ago, and they have still not come back in all this time. So it's unlikely these newly damaged reefs will come back without intervention," Robinson said.

Two methods could be used to do it: Pay fishermen to use their commercial oyster boats to rake across the reefs and pull shells out of the sediment to the surface, or use barges to dump new material such as crushed concrete or oyster shells onto the reefs. This also would provide the hard surface needed for them to reproduce.

But whatever is done will require money the state doesn't have.

"For instance, to cover the major reefs (about 8,000 acres) with 6 inches of new material would cost about $320 million. And that does not count the repair of 11,000 additional acres of small oyster clumps, Robinson said.

Besides the sediment problem, the state is looking for money to remove the other junk that now litters the bottom of the bay. For instance, the state has identified 301 boats that sank in the bay. The boats range in size from 16-foot pleasure crafts to giant barges.

Greg Polluck, a deputy commissioner with the Texas General Land Office, estimates that removing the boats alone will cost $20 million. Then another $368 million will be needed to extract debris from thousands of homes that washed into the bay, he said.

"We are talking to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and will be going to the Texas Legislature about this in January," he said.

FEMA funds
The state must pay for the work and then submit its bills to FEMA for reimbursement of 75 percent of the costs.

FEMA spokesman Simon Chabel said debris removal generally would be covered, but reef restoration is "not a frequently reimbursed expense."

Lisa Halili, the owner of Prestige Oysters, said her marina is blocked from sunken boats, and even when a boat can reach the reefs, there is no telling what will be found there.

"One fishing area is covered with all kinds of debris and sand, and another with grass and mud," she said.

The recovery could take years. Even after the reefs have been cleared, it will take at least two years for an oyster to grow to marketable size, which is 3 inches in diameter, authorities said.

Not only will consumers lose a valuable food source if the oyster reefs aren't restored, but the ecology of the bay will be hurt, Robinson said. "Oysters are filter feeders and critical for improving water quality. Even their reefs serve as important breakwaters to protect from erosion," he said.

Season 4 weeks late
Fishermen have seen the destruction to the private oyster reefs since the storm, but did not get a look at the public reefs until Wednesday.

Oyster season, which usually starts Nov. 1 and runs through April, began four weeks late. The state needed time to fix 62 markers knocked down by Ike that identify approved fishing areas.

But W.F. Childress, who has operated an oyster business near Smith Point for 30 years, won't be putting the few boats he has left back in the water again. He is quitting the business.

"Been looking for that bad storm for years, but had always lucked out before this," he said. He pointed to one boat, Miss Tammy, that the storm lifted from the water and then crashed onto pilings that pierced it like a marshmallow on a stick.

"I had tried to get storm and flood insurance but it cost more than my business was worth," he said.

Yet others, such as Nelson and Halili, are not ready to give up.

"The strong will survive," Nelson said.

At the same time, Halili is being forced to operate from a competitor's oyster house until hers is rebuilt.

"It will be a long road back. It could be like this for God knows how long — unless we get some funding," she said.