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Local 5 Investigates: CityDeck

What lessons can be learned from this summer's cargo ship crash?

(WFRV) GREEN BAY, Wis. - The time for fun on the water has come to an end for most recreational boaters this year, but as many put away those water toys for the summer the U.S. Coast Guard is busy in their investigation into what caused the Kaye E. Barker cargo ship to crash into Green Bay's City Deck this past summer. 

Local 5 Investigate's Brittany Falkers takes a deeper look into the dangers on the Fox River and what can be learned from this summer's incident at City Deck

Green Bay's City Deck has given the downtown area a boost since it was completed in 2012. What makes it so appealing is, of course, the water but also the view of massive cargo ships passing through the channel.

However, as the city saw this past summer, ensuring recreational and commercial use of the area work together can be a challenge. 

A beautiful July afternoon was interrupted this past summer by the sounds of cargo ship steel crushing a recreational boat and colliding with the floating docks along Green Bay's City Deck. 

The incident was captured on a smartphone by more than a few people out enjoying the Sunday afternoon in downtown. 

A boat was destroyed, the Main Street Bridge damaged and the City Deck floating docks were removed for repair. 

The Green Bay Police Department and the U.S. Coast Guard investigated the incident.  While Green Bay's incident report is complete, the U.S. Coast Guard is still looking into just what happened on the Fox River July 16, 2017. 

Local 5 Investigated obtained the completed Green Bay incident.  It sheds some light on events surrounding the incident.

In it, Green Bay Police investigators expressed frustration at not being able to get the name of the Kaye E. Barker's captain. When police asked owners of the ship, Interlake Steamship Co., for the captain's name the shipping company was, "hesitant to provide the captain's information, and didn't want to release that at this time." 

Also in the report is the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Casualty Report, a report the ship's captain was required to fill out that day.  It shows that the master or captain of the Kaye E. Barker at the time of the incident in Green Bay was Kevin Czekanski. 

In the report Captain Czekanski wrote, "While backing out of the Fox River and transiting the Main Street Bridge... an unexpected strong current set the ship to port... causing the ship to hit the bridge fendering... then the bow thruster was used. It caused damage to a small craft at the dock it was tied to." 

When Local 5 asked Interlake Steamship Co. to tell us more about Captain Czekanski they told us, "Captain Czekanski was master of the Kaye E Barker, he has been a licensed mariner with pilotage for Green Bay since spring of 1999, and has been sailing as a master for Interlake Steamship since 2011.  Captain Czekanski has been to numerous training sessions as all of our masters have. In order to rise to the position of master, it takes years of service and countless hours training under senior masters to gain the confidence of Interlake Steamship to sail in the position of master."

Local 5 Investigated obtained an overlay showing the shipping channel in the Upper Fox River and the location of the floating docks along City Deck where the Kaye E. Barker collided with the boat, docks, and bridge. It shows the floating docks are about 25 feet from the Eastern edge of the shipping channel. 

 John Biolchini is a Captain and the Manager at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy where men and women are trained for careers in commercial shipping. 

"In normal conditions I could tolerate the city docks being there.  The problem is when the conditions are not as expected," Biolchini said. 

Conditions were not typical that fateful day of the Kaye E. Barker crash.  The report shows the river current running faster than usual and the wind was 15 miles per hour from the Northeast. 

"So that, I'm speculating, that may be an incident where the stern is a little too far to the east and they're steering the bow to the east in order to hold it up and get it through the draw.  Then they ran out of space with the city docks there," Biolchini said.  

With 25 years of cargo ship experience on the Great Lakes, Biolchini says that for the amount of traffic it sees Green Bay's port is one of the top ten most difficult to navigate. 

"We have issues navigating through those areas," Biolchini said. "I have clearance problems with the draws themselves, In other words, I have a very fat vessel trying to fit though a very narrow space." 

Even in ideal conditions, cargo ships must enter Green Bay at an angel and crab-walk through the draws, according to Biolchini. However, many days are not ideal. 

"The big issue with Green Bay has to do with the variability of the currents in the Fox River," Biolchini said. "Often times you enter the harbor and you don't know what the current flow is or the streams of the current flow is until you get in there and you start lining up for the draws and then you see how the vessel responds."  

Green Bay's City Deck is outside of the shipping channel where these large vessels are designated to maneuver. Biolchini says a ship should be able to get by without hitting a boat tied to the floating docks. However, the number of boats docked there and their size could change that. 

"Yes, they've got the dock there close to the the channel edge, but I put in a sixty foot yacht and this guy's side of his vessel is going to be right into the channel," he said. "In addition, you have all the thruster effects. So, when you're running through the draws you're doing a lot of maneuvering without the thrusters. That's causing quite a bit of turbulence alongside the dock and that's going to move the vessels along the moorings and if they're not tied up well there's a chance they could be broken free." 

The Director of Green Bay's Port Dean Hean agrees.  "Where the problem exists is when additional boats begin to raft there and they're unmonitored and no one is paying attention to what they're doing and then they start impeding upon navigation," Hean said. 

With the known difficulty of the channel, Local 5 Investigates asked Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt about safety concerns during the permitting process of the City Deck. He says ship channel traffic was part of the discussion. 

"Well, when they went through we talked a lot about just the safety. The safety from the land side as well as the safety from the boater's side," Mayor Schmitt said. 

The mayor acknowledged the challenges of the channel, but says, despite the crash this summer, he is confident in the City Deck's safety and longevity. 

"It's tricky, but it's very doable and it's very safe and has been approved," Schmitt said.  "Look, that's a great project and it doesn't need to be re-engineered, it doesn't need to be scaled back. It's worked for years and it's going to continue to work."

Public Works Director Steve Griener says any issues with the location of the docks at City Deck were addressed in the lengthy permitting process. 

"That's why we went through the permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is to ensure that there weren't going to be any problems with where we were located to the shipping channel," Griener said. 

Just two days after the City Deck collision Port Director Hean sent a letter to the city. In it, he made several recommendations, including educational efforts, continued police and Coast Guard safety patrols, and he also encouraged the city to add additional throw rings and warning signage to the floating docks. 

"I think it was a real opportunity to learn from what had happened," Hean said. 

However, Maor Schmitt says there is no need for additional safety measures. 

"Ya know, look, we've been using that and it's meeting, exceeded all of our expectations," Schmitt said. "We had one incident there that's being looked at and I think if you built the safest highway someone's going to have a car accident." 

No matter what is in the final U.S. Coast Guard reported the key to preventing future accidents is for everyone sharing the waterway to respect the rules and understand the limits each vessel has. 

"I mean we obviously can't stop commercial traffic and you can't stop the recreational traffic. We have to be able to learn how to coexist and share the waterway," Biolchini said. 

The U.S. Coast Guard tells Local 5 their report on the investigation into the Kaye E. Barker crash is not yet complete. Until it is they and the Army Corps of Engineers, which approved the City Deck expansion, will not release any statements. 

To keep you and your family safe out on the Fox River be sure to check out the Port of Green Bay's Web page. There you will find shipping schedules, changing current and weather conditions, and tips to help recreational boaters stay safe alongside commercial vessels. 

 

 


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