Chestertown — When you think of Chestertown, regardless of whether you are a tourist or a local, you probably conjure up memories from events like the Chestertown Tea Party Festival or Downrigging Weekend. These important history-steeped events tell the stories of this Eastern Shore town, which once stood as one of six Royal Ports of Entry and the main port for tobacco and wheat on the Eastern Shore.
Chestertown’s waterfront and public access to it are indelible parts of the town’s identity and heritage. So when the Chestertown Marina fell into disrepair after years of deferred maintenance, the Town of Chestertown purchased the marina in 2012, and began making plans for crucial revitalization, repair and redevelopment to ensure the sustainability of the marina as a public waterfront amenity.
“The Chestertown Marina plays an important role as the last working marina in the town,” said Gil Dissen, president of Dissen and Juhn Co., the Stevensville firm that was hired to rebuild the marina, in a news release. “The marina is the home port for the schooner Sultana and hosts a fleet of tall ships annually during Downrigging Weekend. The public boat ramp stands as the only deep-water launch site for 10 miles in either direction on the Kent County side of the Chester River, so this project held particular importance for the town.”
Although restoring and redeveloping the Chestertown Marina is important in the context of public access, the project is part of a much larger 20-year vision for town’s future, which involves the redevelopment of a half mile of waterfront in conjunction with multiple initiatives at Washington College, the release states. The project includes the creation of a waterfront promenade and Heritage Loop Trail featuring signage detailing the community’s history.
The precursor to the waterfront pedestrian walkway concept took place in the 1990s when Dissen and Juhn built the walkway in front of the Custom House on the corner of High and Water streets, according to the release.
“We’ve had past experience with working with Dissen and Juhn,” said Bill Ingersoll, town manager, in the release. “We were fortunate enough to get them on this job. Dissen and Juhn Company is the Cadillac of marine contractors. We had such a great experience working with them.”
Two major objectives of the marina project were to raise the existing public use and commercial areas up above the high tides to eliminate nuisance flooding, which limited the marina’s use, and to improve the new town-owned marina and boat ramp.
Dissen and Juhn’s work on the project included:
• Demolishing and disposing of two, deteriorating fixed timber docks and replacing them with new floating docks, featuring a total of 34 slips plus two large slips, one positioned on each new dock, one on an “L” head and the other on a “T” head. Both floating docks feature electrical, water and fire standpipe systems provided by Dissen and Juhn’s subcontractors. Electrical service included 30-, 50- and 100-amp service. Dock 2 also features a sewer pumpout system.
• Lengthening and widening an existing timber dock to better accommodate the Sultana plus three, 50-feet-long by 5-feet-wide finger docks, a full utility system, eight new slips and an additional large slip on the “T” head.
• Furnishing and installing a 268-linear-foot vinyl bulkhead along the shoreline to replace a failing timber bulkhead.
• Furnishing and installing a 359-foot-long by 10-foot-wide pile-supported timber boardwalk landside of the new bulkhead. The boardwalk connects a timber pedestrian bridge on the upstream side of the marina to a paved walkway on the downstream side of the marina, and provides convenient access to the adjacent community park.
Although the marina project was completed on time and on budget, there were numerous challenges throughout the project, the release states. Chief among them were both time and space.
The project had to be completed in time for Sultana Education Foundation’s 2018 Downrigging Weekend. The event is one of the largest gatherings of tall ships in the mid-Atlantic region, bringing up to 5,000 tourists to Chestertown annually. The fall date of the 2018 event also coincided with the deadline for one of the grants funding the marina project.
Regarding space, the marina is located about 27 miles up the Chester River in an area that is heavily agricultural. Here, the river bottom is characterized by a thick layer of fine silt that originates in the farmland flanking the river on both sides.
Because silt deposits don’t typically exhibit any structural properties, the steel pipe piles securing the floating docks to the river bottom had to be quite long, long enough to penetrate deep into the river bottom until they reached firm material. In some locations, the 12-inch and 16-inch steel pipe piles were 90 feet long.
Working around and within the construction zone presented its own space challenges. The town’s only waterfront restaurant, the Fish Whistle, sits squarely in the middle of the construction zone and planned to stay open throughout the project.
Due to the proximity of the new bulkhead to the restaurant’s foundation, a “gravity block” type anchoring system was used instead of a conventional dead man pile type. This type of anchoring system posed less of a risk to the foundation as compared to piles, which are driven into the ground with an impact or vibratory hammer, the release states.
The final space issue was due to the fact that waterside and landside work was being done simultaneously. David A. Bramble Inc. of Chestertown was responsible for doing all the site work on the project, including raising the elevation of the parking lot, installing new sewer lines and electrical utilities and paving. Both contractors had to work closely together where site work butted up against marine work. For the client having these two companies working on the same project was a major benefit.
“As far as I was concerned with Dissen and Juhn and Bramble working side by side we couldn’t ask for anything better. They are two of the most professional firms there are,” Ingersoll said.
The ability to rely on the experience of the contractors was particularly stress-relieving for the day-to-day contact for the Chestertown Marina project, said Kees de Mooy, town planner.
“Although I wasn’t working for the town when Dissen and Juhn previously worked for us, their experience and track record speaks for itself. Knowing that these guys have been at it for many decades doing superior work allowed me to relax a bit. I knew that whatever challenges arose, they would be able to handle it. Dissen and Juhn was very professional and has a great team in place,” de Mooy said in the release.
The 2019 boating season will be the first full boating season for the new Chestertown Marina.
“We are very happy with our new marina. Although there’s more work left to do to complete our full vision for our waterfront, we can’t wait for this year’s boating season to begin,” de Mooy said.