Harbour Manager Jenny Hartwick described the pile driving procedure as every child’s fantasy of big machinery: loud noises and lots of smoke that comes billowing out. Small Craft Harbours informed Harbour Authority Cortes Island (HACI), who manages the dock, a year and a half ago. The Squirrel Cove dock restoration started on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 4th, 2020.
A Small Craft Harbours Contract
“This is a Small Craft Harbours contract,” said Hartwick.
Small Craft Harbours is a Fisheries and Oceans Canada program, which operates and maintains a nation-wide system of harbours for commercial fishers and other users. They identified the need to upgrade the dock at Squirrel Cove during a previous inspection. HACI has a contract to manage the docks at Cortes Bay, Gorge Harbour, Mansons Landing and Squirrel Cove. (Transport Canada used to own the dock at Whaletown, but divested it to HACI.)
“We have a lease agreement with Small Craft Harbours that lays out what we are responsible for and what they are responsible for. There are some grey areas, but the broader way it works is that anything you walk on is our responsibility – railings, deck boards, full rails etc – anything that supports something you walk on is Small Craft Harbour’s responsibility.”
“The nerd terms are “substructurez’, which is all the material supporting the “superstructure”. The piles, stringers, podcats and that sort of stuff are all substructure. The decking, handrails and guardrails are all superstructure,” stated Holly Monaghan, a coastal marine engineer from Nanaimo who Small Craft Harbours hired as an observer.
There are four Pacific Industrial & Marine Ltd employees on site. One of the two foremen was standing on the dock, beside Monaghan, when I arrived. He passed me on to John Hart, which prompted much teasing and laughter among the crew, but Hart agreed to the interview. He is the project’s crane operator and has been employed in this field for 25 years. Hart is also the only crew member whose home is in Duncan, where Pacific is based.
“Cam’s from Nanaimo; Jesse’s from Ladysmith; Brent’s from Cedar.”
The Work At Squirrel Cove
HACI director Andy Ellingsen‘s memories of the Squirrel Cove dock stretch back to 1950. He is aware of some minor repairs, but no major renovations since then.
Hart added there could be rot issues at the base of some piles, but we do not know this yet.
Hartwick says Pacific Industrial & Marine was hired to: “… drive a total of 27 pilings. There are 20 pilings on the wharfhead and approach that are being replaced. That’s very tidal dependant.
At low tide they have to access the cross braces that are underneath the dock, that holds the pilings together. They have to come back at high tide to access the tops of the pilings from their boats. So there is a lot of back and forthing, depending on the tides. All the pilings on the west float, the one closest to Squirrel Cove Store, are being removed. A new float arrives on Thursday night at 6 PM … On the east float,* all the wooden pilings are being removed and replaced with steel ones …”
“Watching these guys work totally blew me away … You have to cut this thing loose and then pull it out at an angle without damaging the structure that still remains on top. These pilings are like 50 feet tall. So they’re slamming this forty or fifty foot post in, way up high, and then they have to push it into the ground and then tuck it in under the structure that is still there.”
Monaghan says Pacific is vibrating the piles into place, which is much quieter and fish friendly than the old pile driving procedure.
Increasing The Height
“We had raised some concerns about the height of the existing piles because of the massive king tides and in any kind of storm surge there is very little space left on those piles,” says Hartwick.
“We are adding another five feet to the existing piles,” says Hart.
A single steel pile will replace a cluster of four older wooden piles.
“Steel piles are a thing of the future. It is alot stronger than creo [wooden piling coated with creosote] and lasts way longer,” says Hart.
How much longer depends upon the pile’s zincs.
“These have zincs on them, that are hanging. The zincs take the electrolysis away, so the pile doesn’t rot. And environmentally, a steel pile is better than four creo piles because you get this rubbing up and down. You get the creo on it and it leeches into the water. With steel piles, you get nothing.”
He added, “We’ll be driving the new piles later this week, or early next week.”
Finishing the Project
They are staying at the Cortes Motel until February 13th, at noon, then get four days off. They would put in another 10 day shift after that, except that the job isn’t expected to last that long.
After Pacific leaves, HACI will finish the restoration.
Hartwick explained. “There’s little odds and sods: deck posts, railings that need to be replaced etc.”
Top photo credit: Squirrel Cove Dock Restoration – Roy L Hales photo