Keuka life just got more costly for some

John Christensen
This boathouse south of Keuka Village on Keuka's east side was one of the more notable examples of damage done by this winter's ice.

Water, in all its forms, is one of the Earth’s most formative influences; it rises as vapor, condenses, and can fall back to the surface in a wide variety of ways; it can erode stone, flood plains, and deposit sediments; snow that is clean and beautiful at the beginning of the year can be heavy, wet and muddy slush at the end; even a bit of ice can wreak havoc on roads, break the sturdiest trees, and even accumulate into glaciers that can carve continents with features such as our beautiful Finger Lakes.

But this year will be remembered for the not so beautiful influence ice has had on Keuka Lake.

Years of mild winters have convinced many lake dwellers to construct large, elaborate, and expensive permanent docks, lifts, boathouses, and gazebos to add to their enjoyment of the lakefront. Not since 2007, by most local accounts, has the surface of the lake fully frozen, and even then, it was not as thick and long lasting as this year’s ice sheet. Those intervening years have lulled lakefront owners into the belief they were safe.

The archives of The Chronicle-Express often contain stories of the spring breakup of the ice complicating life for lakeside structures — one account from the 1930s tells of a cottage being pushed off its foundation by a moving mountain of ice. Those tales and personal experience were enough to make people go to the annual effort to put docks and boat lifts in and out of the lake each year in deference to winter’s potential wrath.

2014 is an example of that wrath. Docks and lifts on all shores have suffered, some catastrophically.

Pumps called bubblers and mechanical wave-makers may prevent ice from forming around the legs of the structures, but only pilings driven in together as a tripod, called ice-breakers, have a hope of fending off the shifting ice sheet once it is free from shore. This year, several properties have seen even their ice-breakers broken.

Local dock contractor Craig McMinn of CM Fabrication in Penn Yan says that with all the damage done, many people may be going without docks this year. “A lot of guys (contractors) are already booked with new construction,” says McMinn. “There are the new jobs plus all the clean up and rebuilding to do. Some of these docks can be $30,000 to $80,000, and no insurance will cover them. It’s crazy.”

Kim Crawford of Off Shore Marine in Starkey says, “There is already a lot of work to do, and a lot of the ice is still on the lake. People got complacent with the mild winters. Even with bubblers and ice-breakers, nothing is foolproof.” She adds that more damage will still occur as the last of the ice breaks up. “We’ll wait to assess once the ice is gone,” she says.

According to the Keuka Lake Association website regarding grandfathered protection of damaged lake structures as regulated by the Keuka Lake Docking and Mooring Law, replacement is allowed for non-conforming structures damaged in natural disasters, fire, or vandalism.

Building permits are required for all permanent structures. They are available from the local municipal Code Enforcement Officers, and exceptions are handled through town zoning variance procedures.