Home Business Hurricane Nicole: How the Fort Pierce City Marina islands weathered the storm

Hurricane Nicole: How the Fort Pierce City Marina islands weathered the storm

Hurricane Nicole: How the Fort Pierce City Marina islands weathered the storm

Every hurricane season, Floridians brace themselves for what Mother Nature will hurl at them. Six months of anxiety hang thickly over coastal residents as they brace for the potential impacts of high winds, rising tides and hammering waves.

No Floridian is more anxious than Fort Pierce City Marina Manager Dean Kubitschek. 

On Labor Day weekend 2004, the Treasure Coast took a direct hit from Category 1 Hurricane Frances. After the sun came up, scores of boats were piled upon one another and shattered by the storm’s onslaught of 100 mph winds for over 12 hours. The Fort Pierce City Mspanrinspan gained national attention when photos reached the media.

How the marina fared during Hurricane Nicole 18 years later displayed how Kubitschek and his staff have learned from the hard lessons exacted so many years before.

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Attorneys representing the city of Fort Pierce appeared before the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday to testify in a case that challenges the tax-exempt status of the city’s marina. The former owner of Harbortown Marina in Fort Pierce argued his private operation should not be burdened with paying property taxes while the city avoids paying them at its marina. The case could have statewide implications for as many as 200 other municipal-owned marinas.

Fort Pierce City Marina islands

Hurricane Frances was so catastrophe because the marina had floating docks exposed in the Indian River Lagoon. Winds and waves created widespread destruction and cleanup took over a year.

City leaders replaced the docks east of the bulkhead into the lagoon to keep marina revenue coming in. Then Kubitschek and city managers designed a series of manmade islands to be built in the Indian River Lagoon in front of the marina.

The islands, which took six years to design and permit, offer shoreline protection for boats docked there. But they were designed to do much more, Kubitschek said.

For the past three months, Gator Dredging of Clearwater has removed about 5,000 cubic feet of sand from the entrance channel and boat basin at the Fort Pierce City Marina and redistributed most of that sand on Tern Island, one of the man-made islands built in the Indian River Lagoon to protect the marina that was damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. The project cost nearly $400,000 and should be completed by the end of January.

The project consisted of:

  • 12 manmade islands
  • 19 combined acres
  • $18 million paid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency

The islands and harbor were completed by 2013.

“I’m proud of the engineering details included. Each island is a different shape, which creates character, but also has purpose,” he said.

For example, the islands were created by placing rocky boulders in piles instead of poured concrete. One island was created with the idea that terns and other seabirds would nest upon it. City officials have worked with St. Lucie County to add oysters that help clean water along the rocky shoreline. The city planted three types of mangroves — red, white and black. Coral is growing in the marina too.

The living shorelines have created habitat for juvenile fisheries, Kubitschek said.

“The water quality here seems like it stays cleaner longer. There is coral growing here and we have numerous species of fish swimming through here daily. A lot of people get excited about it,” Kubitschek said. 

FILE PHOTO A variety of boats rest in a heap at the mangled Fort Pierce Marina on Sept. 6, 2004, after Hurricane Frances blew through the city and the rest of the Treasure Coast.

Marina weathers the storms

The islands did their job during Hurricane Nicole, Kubitschek said. Additionally, the outer docks have attenuators to disrupt the energy in rhythmic pounding waves. 

“They protected the boats in the marina, and more than that, the waterfront of Fort Pierce. A lot of other facilities in other cities received damage as well as the property around it,” he said.

On the night of the storm, the marina had 204 of its 240 slips full. The November arrival of the storm complicated things because boating season for the marina had already begun, Kubitschek said.

On the afternoon of Nov. 10, Kubitschek was running on fumes. He worked through the night as Hurricane Nicole made landfall. Lines on boats had to be checked and double-checked. Power was shut off to guard against electrocution. Fuel pumps and other items had to be secured.

The scene was repeated at many marinas between Stuart and Sebastian as wind speeds increased and king tides pushed water above docks and shorelines.

The Fort Pierce City Marina experienced the same drill during Hurricane Ian’s landfall even though it was 150 miles away. Kubitschek remembered that night in 2004 when it all went so horribly wrong.

“We lived through that in Frances. It was the hardest time of my life,” said Kubitschek, whose been at the helm for 27 years.

Fort Pierce City Marina

Any time a hurricane or tropical storm even comes close to the Sunrise City, Kubitschek is at the marina for the duration. Dorian in 2019. Irma in 2017. Matthew in 2016. Sandy in 2012.

Each hurricane affected the area differently, with winds coming from different directions at varying speeds. With each passing storm, Kubitschek said he learns a little more what to look for and what can happen.

“Over the years, we’ve been lucky; we’ve had some big ones aiming right at us. With these hurricanes, you have to expect the unexpected,” he said. “I look at it like Mother Nature is going to do what she’s going to do. We have to adapt.”


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