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Marina roars back after Tennessee tornado

Weeks after $5M in damage, the facility is up and running and has expansion plans in the works


On Easter Sunday in April, a woman from Alabama stopped at Island Cove Marina & Resort in Tennessee, looking for the boatyard that had been ripped apart a month earlier by a tornado. She had found it, but it didn’t look the way she expected.

“I informed her that she was right in the middle of it,” says Terry Kelley, the marina’s general manager. “She was so surprised because she had seen the extensive damage on the Internet. She could not believe the marina looked so well.”

Island Cove, which sits on Chickamauga Lake on the Tennessee River System in the Chattanooga suburb of Harrison, is back in business and has done much to recover from the March 2 storm that devastated it. Debris from damaged or destroyed docks and boats has been cleared, downed trees have been removed and buildings have been repaired. An 8-by-400-foot temporary dock was installed for displaced customers. “Our previous customers have been amazed at the progress we have accomplished,” says Kelley.

The tornado, an EF3 that packed winds as high as 165 mph, struck at about 12:15 p.m., shortly after marina workers had left the docks and gone inside for lunch. There were no injuries or deaths, but Kelley estimates damage to the 62-year-old property at $5 million. He says the storm destroyed 280, or 70 percent, of the marina’s wet slips, damaged 266 boats and destroyed an additional 60 to 65 boats. Twenty-seven boats were sunk. In some cases, Kelley says, a lightly damaged boat sat in the water next to one with severe damage. “It was quite unique,” he says.

Previously, the worst storm to hit the marina was in 1995, Kelley says, and it destroyed three docks. “This one took nine docks,” he says.

Kelley says Shane O’Neal, owner of TowBoatUS Chickamauga Lake and Southern Marine Towing, was in charge of recovering boats and demolishing the damaged docks. He used a full-size crane barge for the job. “They had to manually cut the fallen dock roofs off the boats, lift [them] off with the crane and remove the boats one at a time,” Kelley says. “It took them about three weeks for this process. … They even had to remove sunken boats under the docks while containing all the leaking fuel.”

Kelley says the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation “had nothing but praise for our fuel and debris cleanup.” Boaters, he says, need to know they are responsible for the fuel in their boats and the cost of cleaning it up. “A lot of boaters didn’t understand this and had a shortfall of fuel spill insurance coverage,” he says.

The marina’s dry-storage facility was essentially undamaged and none of the approximately 200 boats stored inside were harmed. The marina’s parts and service department, which is in a separate building, had minor damage, but work there continued uninterrupted in the days after the storm. “We never really shut down,” Kelley says.


The Island Cove Inn — the marina’s 12-room hotel — was undamaged, but two cabins on the property needed new roofs and had water damage, Kelley says. At the marina’s Amigos restaurant, he says, the storm blew off a portion of the roof and there was some water damage to the hardwood floors, but the restaurant was open again the following Monday. “We could have had a lot more onshore damage,” he says. “Most of our buildings were intact. Within 10 miles of us, 70 homes were destroyed.”

The marina’s insurer, Chartis, responded quickly, making a significant initial insurance payment. “Chartis has been great throughout this entire process,” Kelley says. “They had $1 million in our hands five days after this event to help with cleanup and placing orders for new docks.”

Kelley says the marina has ordered four new docks — one apiece with 30-foot slips, 40-foot slips, 50-foot slips and 60-foot slips — from Floating Docks Mfg. Co. in Indianapolis. All of the new docks will be more than 300 feet long — larger than before the storm. “They have built all of our docks for the past 20 years and do a great job,” he says. “We ordered all of the new docks with vented roofs that will help in the future with strong winds. I don’t think anything will help with a direct hit, but it will help with the 50- to 70-mph winds that have caused us a lot of damage over the past few years.”

Kelley expected the new docks to begin arriving in May. He believes two will be installed by the end of August and that the other two will be in place by the end of the year. “We have the marina back in order and are open for business,” Kelley says. “I am very pleased with what we accomplished in slightly more than 30 days.”

The docks being replaced this year in the first phase of reconstruction are on the back side of the marina, Kelley says. The other five that were destroyed are on the front side, facing Highway 58. Kelley says the marina will build smaller slips on the front side of the marina in the second phase of restoration to accommodate pontoon boats and smaller cruisers. “There will be progress [on the second phase] in 2013, but I’m not sure how much,” he says. “A lot will depend on how quickly I can fill the slips in Phase One.”

Kelley has been general manager at Island Cove since 1995. James and Carolyn Gray and Jim Sheets, all lifelong Chattanooga residents, have owned the marina since 2000, when Kelley says a major expansion began. Now the goal is to rebuild the marina so it is bigger and better than before the tornado. “We intend to,” Kelley says. “It’s always been a good business.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.



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