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Some sailors left high and dry by dock delay

As summer rolls in, sailors like Carl McElwin get anxious. They tinker with their rigging, buff their hulls and prepare for the weeknight races outside the Buffalo breakwater.

But this summer, that anxiety is higher than normal at one marina for sailors who can’t launch their boats because the docks are not ready.

The First Buffalo River Marina, across from Canalside on the Buffalo River, is getting a $1 million dock makeover paid for by the New York Power Authority, which owns the marina. The docks for 151 boats are more than two weeks overdue, and could take 10 more days to complete.

Permit procedures delayed the start of the work, and some boat owners have complained about slow progress since the work began.

The anxious boaters are missing what one called “the best sailing in the country.”

The Power Authority, which bought the property in October 2010 for $4.4 million, applied in March for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to install the docks. However, the permit was delayed and construction did not begin until a week after clients were used to having their slips ready on May 15.

From April to mid-May, the new docks sat on land while patrons questioned the holdup.

“The [docks] looked great on shore, but I couldn’t understand why they weren’t in the water,” said McElwin, a Ransomville resident and sailor of 37 years.

Once the permit was granted May 22, installation began immediately and is being done by Allen Marine Services of Tonawanda, said Mike Wolasz, operations director of Brand-On Services, which the Power Authority contracts with to run the marina.

He said half of the docks are in, and he is optimistic the rest could be installed in about 10 days.

But that leaves people like Richard Dilcher grumbling about the contract he said promised docks by mid-May.

Dilcher found another place to dock until installation is completed. But he feels the marina “really dropped the ball” in handling the new docks. He said he can understand the frustration of those who can’t get their boats in the water.

Before the Power Authority bought the marina, it was a congenial, ramshackle operation run by Harold Ganzer and nicknamed “Harold’s World.”

The new ownership has installed a security gate and made other improvements, leaving some nostalgic for the old days.

But they are biding their time, eager and excited by the prospect of the new docks.

McElwin said the docks are the best he’s ever seen. He recalled struggling to balance on the previous ones, which were more than 30 years old.

He said the delay is the first issue he’s ever encountered in his nine years at the docks.

For those affected by the delay, Wolasz said he offered transient slips at a temporary dock at the Erie Basin Marina, which he also operates, and on the Canalside dock, but many of the patrons declined.

Wolasz said they’re doing the best they can with what they have, and added, “You can’t please everyone.”

The normal processing time for the type of permit requested by the Power Authority to put in the docks is 120 days, according to Bruce Sanders, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We cut this [processing] time in half,” Sanders said in an email.

But because the new docks include new utility service, accessibility for the disabled, and modified dock lengths, the corps had to “coordinate with other federal and state agencies,” Sanders said.

The Power Authority bought the marina because it had been leasing space there in the winter since 1991 to store vessels that attend to the ice boom.

The holdup at the marina has been noticed by others in the local sailing community.

Joe Roetter, commodore of the Buffalo Harbor Sailing Club, said there have been fewer boats in the club’s evening races.

“A lot of our racers are not in the water because they keep their boats at First Buffalo,” he said. Races that normally draw 75 to 80 boats have about 50 lining up so far this summer.