Getting the Big Dock ship-shape

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By Jenna McKenna

The Big Dock is getting fixed.

The day the world - the Cedar Key world - awaited has come at last. Recently Lucas Marine Construction (LMC) moved into its new locations on - and off - Dock Street, with several barges, a crane, a tug and a variety of land and marine heavy equipment.

"They moved in quietly, and haven't been disruptive at all, so far," said City Commissioner Sue Colson. "Although I'm sure the day is coming when there will be disruptions, though not their fault."

Colson referred to the scale of the project, that of demolishing the old Big Dock, drilling and setting new supports, and pouring new caps and decking. All this will take place in and around the narrow streets of Cedar Key's tiny waterfront area, with the bulk of the labor occurring off the end of the dock itself, on a barge.

Nevertheless, some of the operation will still take up space on land, will usurp parking spaces, will roll large trucks with heavy loads on and off the island. But as long as folks have waited for the return of their beloved dock, job contractors and local officials expect the best of cooperation. Mayor Paul Oliver and Police Chief Bubba Castell have added their guarantee to that expectation.

City Commissioner Vanessa Edmunds was also pleased with communication between LMC and the city.

"They introduced us to everyone there and gave us their contact information, told us what would be blocked off, and when, and said they would provide a flagman when one is needed."

"I'm glad it's finally moving," she continued. "We've had hurdle after hurdle."

Work was proceeding rapidly. LMC project manager Louis Diotte roved over the compact worksite Tuesday as two workers tightrope-walked out on the beams at the south end of the dock. Where the decking had already been removed, the men were walking to the furthest beam, working web slings around both ends, and attaching the slings to the crane's hook. With one gentle pull, the beam would pop skyward and be transported to the waiting pile of splintered timbers.

"I expect to have all this decking and pilings removed in one more week after this one," Diotte said, noting that the timing will coincide nicely with the adjusted arrival time of the drilling subcontractor. "If we're not done when he gets here, we'll work from the other end to make a space for him so he can get started immediately."

The decision to drill and set pilings, rather than drive them, was one that caused consternation in the communities and delays to the project. On the one hand, there was concern among adjacent property owners that the impact and vibration from pile-driving might seriously damage their buildings. On the other hand, it costs a lot more to drill and set piles, a matter that was finally laid to rest by the county's agreement with FEMA over the cost of the project.

"This drilling will be a better job," Diotte said. "It's much stronger than driving. I believe this structure will be here not just after I'm gone, but after most of these people here are gone, too. Assuming the Earth is still left."

Diotte said he has several high priorities in the dock project, the first of which is safety and environmental protection. His crew has contained the access to the job site on Dock Street with barricades and placed similar barriers and flags around the staging area on Third Street and other work areas by the marina. In addition, the job site seems internally secure and tidy, and containment barriers completely encircle the dock in the water, so that falling debris cannot be washed out where it could damage boats or injure boaters.

Another big priority is pace and punctuality. LMC has eight months to complete this job. "We'd all like to beat that," Diotte said. "You can see this dock is the lifeblood of the local businesses here. They're suffering."

With hurricane season all but over, things should go according to schedule.

?I've got good people. We're going to make it be on schedule."

Diotte said that since his crew's introduction to the community, at a pre-construction conference at Coconuts, LMC has been made to feel quite welcome.

"Everybody's been real gracious," he said. "Someone gave the guys some grouper steaks, another person brought some dove breasts, some venison - we ate off the grill on the back porch all last week."

"Now we're finding our way into the various eating spots around town. Put it this way - I don't think any of us will lose any weight on this job."