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LIC votes to buy new 50-foot boat for dredging

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The familiar tugboat of Storm Lake's dredging era has apparently made its last voyage on Storm Lake.

In a special meeting Monday, the local Lake Improvement Commission voted unanimously to attempt to buy a 50-foot Navy-design cargo boat to replace the tugboat. The refurbished 1995 boat is the last of its kind available from a Texas supplier, and while it lists at $125,000 - city Infrastructure Director Pat Kelly feels it can be bought for just under $100,000, about $110,000 as trucked to the city.

The tugboat has presented a number of problems of late. Safety experts have said the project would be better off with a barge-type boat to carry fuel to the dredge. The boat also tends to swamp the front end when pulling up the large dredging anchors in choppy water. When it was pulled out of the water after last year's season, some holes were found in the bottom.

It would have taken about $25,000 in work just to make the vessel lake-worthy, Kelly said, and it still would have presented the same safety concerns. With the current engine also failing, the boat has virtually no value.

"You could stick it on e-Bay, maybe," Kelly said.

The Texas boat, once used to load and offload supplies from ships up to three miles offshore, is apparently in prime shape and has seen light duty. It recently was shipped to Mexico for a fresh paint job. The locals happened upon it in a marine magazine ad, and there are few other affordable options, since used cargo boats are hard to find, Kelly says. His staff had been searching for about two months.

Thirteen feet longer than the tug at 50 feet, and with a cab placed at the rear, the boat will be more stable in rough water. With a structural hold midships, it will be more appropriate for the safe hauling of fuel. And with two engines as opposed to the tug's one, it will be twice as maneuverable, Kelly said.

Weighing in at 25 tons, the boat is light enough that cranes available locally with Bargloff and Company could lift it in and out of the water as needed.

"We've been on borrowed time," LIC leader Gary Lalone said of the tug, which was thrown in with the dredge purchase deal when the project started several years ago. "We knew when we got it that we weren't getting much."

Technically, the tug is owned by the county, and any money that might be gotten out of it through a sale or scrap would go back to the county. A new engine had been purchased for the tugboat, but had not been installed, and the supplier has agreed to refund the price.

In other Lake Improvement Commission news:

* Five potential future spoil sites have been identified, with letters sent to each landowner to see if they would sell, rent or lease the land for future seasons of dredging. A decision will be made when the status of those land parcels is known. The city has some funding already projected to aquire spoil land.

* Painting of the dredge is expected to begin as soon as conditions allow. Recent tests found lead residue in the primer underneath the flaking existing paint, so a careful system of tarps and paint chip control will have to be undertaken, more than doubling the project cost to $54,000.

* After partially sinking last year, compartment air tests have so far checked out well, and the dredge is considered to be in good shape. The main motor has been serviced and tested, and componants that were removed for work after the sinking are now being moved back to the docking site to be reinstalled.

* Dredging was scheduled to begin for the season in mid-April, but weather conditions may push the preparation work back somewhat.

* City officials have reconsidered its efforts to relocate fuel lines from outside the boat to run through the pantoons, which were drilled for that purpose. The lines are being returned to the outside of the vessel.

* The dredge has been valued at about $900,000. With the current improvements being made, it should be at or above what the community paid for it originally. Plans would allow for the dredge to be resold if it is no longer needed, but dredging could well continue for another decade before that happens.

* The LIC is currently estimating total costs to complete the future years of dredging, which would in total reach the point where about half the lake bottom surface would be deepened. They hope to approach state and federal officials for funding for the entirety of the remaining project, rather than asking for funds each year.



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