New Marina is A Story of Innovation on Water

A view of the 900-foot steel and concrete breakwater on the outer edge of the Pier 8 portion of the Charlestown Marina. The uniquely constructed breakwater was fabricated over the winter in East Boston.

A view of the 900-foot steel and concrete breakwater on the outer edge of the Pier 8 portion of the Charlestown Marina. The uniquely constructed breakwater was fabricated over the winter in East Boston.

Though it might seem like it, the multi-million dollar investment in building the new marina at Pier 8 in the Navy Yard didn’t just float into place – or did it.

While residents continue to meet with Charlestown Marina developers on the details of such things as the Harborwalk and other plans, a fascinating story of local jobs, truck traffic avoidance and revived water-based economic development has unfolded on the actual construction end of the marina project.

That construction is currently ongoing, and owners Chuck and Ann Lagasse said this week they are right on target to open Pier 8 some time in May. Pier 6, meanwhile, is on a different track and will be targeted for opening at a later date. The former dilapidated Pier 8 is now a brand new piece of work – completely rebuilt and full into a dynamic rehabilitation to bring back a vibrant boating culture in the neighborhood. That effort wasn’t borne by the sweat of foreign steelworkers or out-of-state dock workers – or even local truck drivers clogging up the streets with large deliveries.

In fact, the gigantic breakwater on Pier 8, the towering pilings and accompanying finger docks were constructed across the Harbor at East Boston’s Boston Bridge & Steel using local workers who pounded out the super-strength steel in two shifts all winter long. Then, using local labor and a work boat that had been employed in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup, the newly fabricated flotilla was dragged to Charlestown over water, piece by piece, to avoid menacing truck trips through the neighborhood.

The partnership between Boston Bridge & Steel and the Lagasse’s is one that is as burgeoning as the boating scene in Boston Harbor.

The Lagasse’s have operated marinas and boat-related developments in Newburyport for many years, but a few years ago correctly sensed a resurgence in boating activity in Boston Harbor. That led them to re-develop the Boston Yacht Haven downtown, which was the first cooperative effort with Boston Bridge & Steel. Last year, when the Lagasse’s purchased the troubled Pier 8 project for rehabilitation, they once again turned to the local partnership.That has once again paid dividends, they said, supporting local workers in what could be a great new water-based economic industry for Boston.

While Boston Bridge & Steel fabricates all kinds of things – including bridges, piping and other heavy infrastructure – partners Michael Julian and John Burm said they truly enjoy doing the water-based work and have seen it pick up in recent years.

“We love doing these jobs and transporting in the water,” said Burm. “We’re 15 feet from the water. That’s a major competitive advantage for us. That factors out having to use the roads. Contracts come to us all the time and we look at them and say, ‘We can save you a lot of money by putting it together here and putting it on the water.’ The point is if you can get it in the water and ship it on the water, it’s easy and faster.”

Meanwhile, it’s also local.

The Lagasses signed a contract with Boston Bridge & Steel late last fall, about the same time they closed on the Marina property. That contract, Ann Lagasse said, includes manufacturing 900 feet of steel breakwater, 139 24-inch steel pilings (some as long as 115 feet) and hundreds of feet in finger floats – all manufactured from scratch on the Harbor.

“We fabricated right through the winter and we’re still fabricating right now,” said Julian. “All the piling contract is done. The breakwater is done and we’re working on finger floats that will be floated across the harbor soon. We ramped up for the job from about 25 workers to about a high of 45 workers here…Now, we’re anticipating getting started on the Pier 6 portion of the project.”

Added Burm, “Those are all Boston employees from East Boston, Dorchester, the South Shore and the North Shore. It’s all local labor. It’s been good steady work for the guys. It’s feast or famine sometimes.”

Both men said the project is very unique, as they don’t often custom fabricate steel and concrete breakwaters of that size, nor do they fabricate steel pilings that go up so high in order to accommodate for climate change-related sea level rise. Additionally, they don’t often get an order that requires the kind of steel they used on the project – which is a high-strength steel that Julian said he acquired from the natural gas pipeline industry in Alabama.

“This requires extremely high-strength steel,” he said. “I even had to fly down to Birmingham, Alabama to look it all over. I went to a pipe mill that makes gas lies for the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico. They have a lot of leftovers they don’t use. You can get that leftover super-strength steel because it’s no longer useful for the gas line industry, but it’s perfectly suitable for us and our purposes.”

More than 1 million pounds of that Alabama steel came up on some 60 trucks over the winter to Boston Bridge & Steel, oftentimes in the middle of a snowstorm. That kept the project moving, Julian said.

Burm, Julian and Ann Lagasse added that another factor keeping the project moving was local people working with local people in an informal way. Often, they said, they would draw up plans or changes on the back of a napkin. From such scraps of paper came great ideas that were acted upon quickly and without delaying the project or the fabrication work.

“When we were pulling it all together, we often did that on the back of napkins or with informal meetings,” said Julian. “So many of the big companies do everything by the letter and it can take them forever to make a decision on the smallest thing. Chuck and Ann have a lot of experience and have been down this road before. They know what we’re talking about and we know what they’re talking about. It’s easy to pick up the phone and talk with them about a change and make a quick decision.”

Added Burm, “That back of the napkin thing is healthy way to do things like this because everybody has input.”

Of course, all such projects come back to the newfound-popularity of boating on the cleaned-up Boston Harbor, as well as the growing demand by folks to live on the water near amenities such as the Charlestown Marina. Burm said he has noticed that boating has picked up and it all spells good news for the local industry and its workers.

“There’s definitely been a big demand in boating,” he said. “Just look at Fan Pier…The boaters are spending money and they spend that money on marinas and that’s good for us. We love doing this work. It’s good for the boys in the shop and their families too.”

Pier 8 is expected to open to boating customers some time in May and will feature 350 single and double-loaded slips accommodating vessels from 25 to 400 feet. The 900 foot hybrid concrete and steel breakwater is featured to reduce wave action from the outer harbor, and sustainable wood (called Ipé) from Brazil has been used in all the decking.

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