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Pier collapse dumps woman into lagoon at Vero City Marina

Photo: Woman and her dog saved after crumbling pier (pictured) collapses.

On Saturday afternoon, a woman who lives aboard her boat at the Vero Beach City Marina and her dog were dumped into the lagoon when the concrete “finger pier” on which they were standing collapsed. The woman suffered bruises on her arm in the fall, but was able to make it out of the water and onto the dock. Her dog was also rescued. 

Another resident boater stated that numerous people were present when the incident occurred, including a large crowd of men, women and children who had come to tour the Columbus Foundation Nina and Pinta replica ships docked at the marina. Marina staff, fellow boaters and crew members from the two tall ships all came running to help.

The “finger piers” are narrow concrete – and sometimes wood – structures extending out perpendicular to the main docks, in-between the docked boats, allowing boaters access to their vessels.  About half the pier next to the slip where the woman's boat had been docked was gone – sunk to the bottom of the lagoon, in about 7 feet off water. There was nothing left to be seen but a small broken chunk of concrete with rusty re-bar embedded in it, hanging from the rotting pier post.

A resident boater who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from marina management said others have fallen from crumbling docks, including one marina employee.

Vero Beach 32963 reported on disrepair at the marina last March, but city officials dismissed the reports. 

At that time, several resident boaters and frequent marina visitors pointed out numerous cosmetic and structural problems, including the slippery, rundown condition of the docks. 

A source related an incident in which a resident boat owner slipped on her dock, and tumbled into the water next to her boat. With no ladder on her stretch of dock, she couldn't pull herself out. Fortunately there were neighbors nearby who dragged her to the main dock and hauled her to safety, but not before she sustained a nasty gash on her arm.

“The only docks I've seen in Florida in worse shape are in Tarpon Springs,” one resident commented at the time.

A year later, the docks don't appear to have improved. One resident pointed out extensive cracks in the concrete on the remaining finger piers, some appearing to extend all the way through the concrete. “The only thing holding some of them up are these two strips of wood” that frame the concrete, the resident said

The boater who occupies the slip next to the woman who fell on Saturday helped her move her boat to a slip with a still-intact finger pier. 

He pointed to the rusty re-bar sticking out of the chunk of concrete on the collapsed pier. “Mine will be next,” he said. “That's old re-bar. And there should be a platform and ladder next to her boat. I've never been to a marina that didn't” have ladders easily accessible to all slips.

Last year, Marina residents said they were told a lack of funds was the main reason their concerns hadn't been addressed.  City Manager Jim O'Connor said the Marina's tight budget precluded a lot of upgrading. 

As an enterprise fund, the Marina is expected to operate solely on its income, and it is currently burdened by a $4.7 million loan taken out in 2007 to purchase a dry-storage structure and docks on 1.19 acres just south of the adjacent Vero Beach Yacht Club. The Marina will be making payments for 11 more years.

Despite the tight budget, Harbormaster Tim Grabenbauer said he is trying to get the docks fixed, negotiating with contractors to repair or replace the collapsed pier, along with another section that was damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

He said he also is working to get a grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District to upgrade the docks.

When the Columbus Foundation ships visited in March 2015, the Marina did a bit of sprucing up to make a good impression on the hundreds of extra visitors.  And there was certainly some spit-and-polish applied for this year's visit, as well.