"Boat owners,port face off"

"Almost four years after the unforgettable storm in December 1996 damaged 15 uninsured wooden boats at the Port Orchard Marina, their owners will have their day in Kitsap County Superior Court.The plaintiffs, represented by Silverdale attorney Micheal Koch, intend to prove the Port of Bremerton, as the marina operator, had a duty to protect their boats but failed, during an Oct. 30 court appearance.According to court papers, the trial is expected to last seven days, and a Pierce County judge is scheduled to preside over the case because local judges recused themselves from it.The boaters are suing the port for $1 million, which means they are seeking to recoup $234,000 they say they lost in damages to their vessels, $41,000 in lost personal effects and $867,000 in lost vessel use. Reimbursement for attorneys fees is also being sought. The boats in question were caught in two covered moorage slips at the marina when snow and ice-laden roofs collapsed during the violent storm. Several vessels either sunk in the icy water or were heavily damaged when high-powered water jets from goverment tugs were used to strip the roofs of snow and ice. The water froze on impact, however, and the roofs eventually collapsed.The plaintiffs contend the port had a responsibility to have in place an effective emergency plan that could have prevented the sinking of the dockfloats, as well as the collapse of the moorage roofs. Koch also said port employees failed to notify his clients of any danger to their boats. But John Hayes, a Seattle attorney representing the port, said that if some boaters weren't notified, it wasn't from lack of effort.The port further contends the use of high-powered water jets was the only viable means of clearing 18 inches of snow and ice off the moorage roofs.The port's attorney noted that hundreds of other vessels were freed through the use of water-cannon tugs.A court date was scheduled after settlement talks broke down between the two parties earlier this year.The plaintiffs in the case are Forest and Sharon Stoner, Ronald and Jacqueline Belyea, Laurence Brown, Phillip and Eileen Formento, ricky and Stacy Gibbs, Michael and Anne Marie Knowles, Tim and Cathy McCann, Nick Mildenberger, Donna Nelson, Wayne Pounds, Trevor Risher, Thomas Welter, Melvin and Patricia Wright, James and Carolyn Yoder and Rley and Connie Stites. The Stites couple joined the lawsuit in 1999, while the bulk of the complainants filed it in 1998."

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