Boat owners lose lawsuit against port

"A jury decided in Kitsap County Superior Court Nov. 17 that the Port of Bremerton was not responsible for damages following the collapse of Port Orchard Marina's Dock E after a 1996 winter storm, which damaged or sunk 27 boats moored inside.It's a complete vindication of the port's action, said John Hayes, the attorney representing the Port of Bremerton. Frankly, I thought the port deserved a medal, not a lawsuit. Gene Baker and all the staff were heroes. They went way beyond the call to rescue property, Hayes said.Mary Ann Huntington, chairwoman of the Port of Bremerton Board of Commissioners, said she was excited for the Port.I had no doubt that after the testimony came out, we would be exonerated, she said. Our staff, our crew, did everything we could do in light of such a disaster.The plaintiff's attorney, Michael Koch, said he was disappointed with the jury's verdict. He said he thought the defense's argument that the magnitude of the storm overwhelmed the Port's ability to respond convinced the jury.The theory we advanced was - and proof was and the Port admitted - the Port had no snow plan and no emergency plan in place, he said. They weren't willing to admit to damages.The 14 plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit have not filed for an appeal.Huntington said nobody could have predicted the speed with which the storm would drop several inches of snow in Port Orchard, adding by the next morning, it was too dangerous to send crews onto the roof to shovel.We never in our wildest dreams thought that when we went to bed that night, there would be so much snow. It was snow and ice and snow and ice - everything was just layered on everybody's roof.Nobody is prepared for something like that where we live. Everyone was doing everything we possibly could, she said.As alternating snow and ice accumulated on the roof of the slip during a storm that hit on the night of Dec. 26, 1996 and continued into early morning Dec. 27, the floats under Dock E began to sink. The roof sloped until it was touching radar towers on some of the boats inside. Port of Bremerton officials responded Dec. 27 by prohibiting public access to the slips and bringing in a Navy tugboat to shoot a water cannon at the roofs of the moorage slips to clear the snow. At one point, Port of Bremerton crews cut the lines on some of the boats moored in the dock so they could float to safety.While the cannon cleared other docks, the west side of Dock E collapsed, damaging or sinking 27 boats inside. The tug continued to shoot water on the east side of the dock, successfully clearing snow from the roof.Huntington said the likelihood of the Port's dock collapsing again under winter snow is slim. The roof of the dock has been assembled in sections rather than as one long shed, so if one section should collapse, it won't take the whole roof down.The post-collapse dock was also built with floats with better buoyancy. And a salt-water spray will help wash snow off the roofs without freezing over and adding to the weight.We're constantly approving and up-dating, Huntington said. With the new facility and the spray, I don't think we could have anything like that ever again. "

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