2012-04-19 / Front Page

Chief Dock To Be Scrapped, After All

By Mary Petrides


The track elevator for the Chief Wawatam was a feature on the St. Ignace waterfront for decades, before it collapsed last August. Now, the city and historical society say the resulting debris will be hauled away for disposal. (File Photograph) The track elevator for the Chief Wawatam was a feature on the St. Ignace waterfront for decades, before it collapsed last August. Now, the city and historical society say the resulting debris will be hauled away for disposal. (File Photograph) The Michilimackinac Historical Society will not attempt to salvage pieces of the Chief Wawatam dock, board members decided at a meeting Wednesday, April 11. The group plans to preserve the memory of the railroad operation, but said the pieces left are not salvageable for restoration.

Board member Jennifer McGraw noted that the historical society’s decision did not apply to other groups or individuals who want to pursue a salvage operation.

“If another entity wants to step in, we’re out of the way,” she said.

The decision came after St. Ignace City Manager Les Therrian informed the historical society board that salvaging the pieces may be more complicated than initially thought. When representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Quality learned that the city planned to turn the materials over to the historical society, the organizations informed Mr. Therrian that the city was responsible for making sure that the wood pieces were disposed of properly. The wood has been processed and may contain pollutants that should not be permitted to leak into the ground, they told him, and the city cannot relinquish control until proper disposal.

“Council didn’t want to have responsibility for it,” he said.

Mr. Therrian learned later that other entities submitted a letter to the city stating their responsibility for the pieces, so the city could relinquish control.

Ryba Marine, a construction company from Cheboygan, will clear the pieces away, sell the steel for scrap, and use that revenue to have the wood disposed of. The historical society plans to find a way to preserve the history and memory of the elevator, but did not decide on a specific preservation project. The board discussed building a copy of the elevator, possibly on a smaller scale, but said the steel pieces of the original elevator are not worth salvaging.

“My thought would be [that] our involvement has to be a few representative pieces, or less than that,” said Mrs. McGraw. “We can’t take semi loads.”

“How are we going to tell the story with a small piece of steel?” board member Keith Massaway asked. The only way he could think of to do that, he said, was to make a complete replica of the structure using a few representative pieces of the original steel, but even that would be difficult.

“You’re talking years in storage and hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

The steel was too rusted and brittle to make a replica using only original pieces, he said.

Nancy Dandona, historical society president, said to sift through the rubble and find smaller pieces to save would likely increase the cost.

Total cost for the project, including adding stone to reinforce the dock and prevent further erosion, is about $57,000, Mr. Therrian said. The city’s insurance will cover the entire cost if it is done before August 3, a year after the collapse.

The city may be at a greater liability now than in the fall, he said, because the city had a chance to clean up the debris and hasn’t yet. Wood pieces could escape and damage boats coming from nearby ferry docks or the St. Ignace Public Marina, he said.

The society may build some sort of replica on site, but the project would be long-term. Board members suggested surveying and inventorying pieces before they are picked up to have the information available when the replica is built. They may also try to track down blueprints of the structure.

The railroad track elevator collapsed August 3, 2011, leaving a pile of iron and timber rubble on the St. Ignace waterfront. The frame and its large counterbalances were used to lift and align the track apron to the deck of the railroad ferry Chief Wawatam, and had long been a focal point in the harbor.

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