Wednesday, April 9th, 2014
By Shelley Grieshop
Dock damage severe
Harsh winter, lowering water level both factors
  CELINA - Long-term ice cover and the lowering of Grand Lake's water level this winter are blamed for widespread damage to area boat docks.
Kent Shaner of Shinn Brothers, Celina, on Tuesday inspected more than a dozen docks at the Mercer County-owned 4-H camp at Harbor Point in Celina. He told county commissioners during the tour that more than half of the 14 docks and a connecting walkway need repaired.
"It costs about $200 to fix a dock, normally," Shaner said, adding he'd prepare an estimate as soon as possible.
Shaner said he already has 29 other docks to fix around the lake and expects to hear from more homeowners. Many aren't permanent lakeside residents and may not know their docks were damaged, he added.
Shaner and county maintenance supervisor Dave Dorsten said the unusually cold winter and the state's now annual practice of drawing down the lake's water level for restoration and to prevent flooding were a bad combination.
"The ice adhered to the (dock's) posts. When they let the water level down, the ice went with it," Dorsten explained.
Officials said the impact was magnified by the gap left between the ice and the surface of the lake, which led to the displacement of the pilings.
Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager Brian Miller agreed there is much more dock damage this year - including several structures at the state park - but he's not certain lowering the lake level was a factor.
"It could have been part of the impact, I can't say for sure," he said.
Miller said dock damage has also been noted at Indian Lake in Logan County and Lake Loramie in Shelby County where water levels were not adjusted.
Anglers on Grand Lake this winter reported seeing only a slight gap between the ice - up to 20 inches thick in some places - and the surface of the water during the lake draw down, Miller said.     "We had such long, cold days. ... Typically the ice doesn't attach to the steel poles or pipes (supporting the docks) because the sun warms them," he said. "But this year it did."
The state opened the gates at the spillway Jan. 15 to begin drawing down the water level and closed them March 11, Miller said. The goal is to maintain a level 9 inches below the spillway; it measured 8 1/2 inches below when the gates were closed, he said.
Recent rainfall increased the lake level to 7 inches above the spillway notch on Tuesday, he added.
Miller said the state has discontinued its use of pipe as dock supports and encourages the use of steel H beams. Many of the docks showing damage along the lake, including some at the 4-H camp, were constructed with pipe because it is cheaper, he said.
The county's docks, which are rented to the public each year, were closed Tuesday as a safety precaution until the necessary repairs can be made.   
Across the channel, officials eyed several privately-owned docks that were mangled and partially submerged in the water.
"This winter's been costly for everybody," commissioner Jerry Laffin said.
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