Lake Cumberland marinas scramble to repair snowstorm damage before summer

New slips at Lees Ford Resort Marina

Owner J.D. Hamilton shares his drone video of new slips constructed at Lees Ford Resort Marina on Lake Cumberland
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Owner J.D. Hamilton shares his drone video of new slips constructed at Lees Ford Resort Marina on Lake Cumberland

The sounds of hammering, sawing and drilling have been common around Lake Cumberland the last few months as workers scrambled to replace hundreds of covered boat slips destroyed by a heavy January snowfall.

Marinas wanted to get significant work done by Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer tourism season.

At Lee’s Ford Resort Marina near Somerset last Tuesday, one crew was installing metal roofing on the last of more than 200 new slips, while other workers were putting in electrical boxes, connecting water lines and laying squares of concrete walkway on the floating docks.

All the while, marina owner J.D. Hamilton’s cellphone was going off every few minutes as he juggled repair work, deliveries of construction materials and preparations for the holiday.

“We have been working seven days a week, in the rain, you name it,” Hamilton said. “I just keep telling them, ‘Memorial Day.’”

Nearly all the nine commercial marinas on the giant lake suffered damage when a winter storm described as “paralyzing” by the National Weather Service moved across Kentucky Jan. 22 and 23, dumping more than two feet of snow in some spots.

It wasn’t just the total accumulation — which came on top of another snow a few days earlier — that caused problems. The snow also piled up quickly, falling at a rate of two inches an hour at times, according to the weather service.

Lee’s Ford is an an area where the weather service said 12 to 18 inches of snow fell.

Hamilton said workers at his marina tried to clear snow from covered boat docks during the storm, but couldn’t keep ahead of the gathering weight.

The docks are floating covers made of metal posts supporting a metal roof. Around the lake, structures covering hundreds of slips collapsed, twisted or were pushed down on top of boats by the snow.

“It looked like a bomb went off,” said John Dalton, a Somerset resident who had his 24-foot pontoon in a slip at Lee’s Ford at the time.

The snow damaged other buildings as well, and a houseboat reportedly sank at Jamestown Resort & Marina in Russell County.

The storm knocked out power to thousands of customers and created an impasse on Interstate 75 in Rockcastle County that left up to 3,000 people stranded in their vehicles at one point, according to a weather service report.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake, did not provide an estimate on the cost of the damage to marinas.

However, Hamilton said the damage at Lee’s Ford alone was about $4 million.

Hamilton said the recovery effort has been “wild.”

The first job was to pull the roofs off wrecked sections of docks so owners could get to their boats.

Many had damaged windshields, canvas and fiberglass, said Richard “Chico” Cornwell, who does fiberglass and gel coat repairs at Sea Ray of Lake Cumberland.

“It was pitiful,” he said of the storm damage. Some boat storage units also collapsed, he said.

It could be mid-summer before repairs are finished on all the boats owners brought in, and Sea Ray isn’t the only place working to get boaters back on the lake, Cornwell said.

“Everybody that’s got a fiberglass shop is busy,” he said.

Hamilton said it was hard getting replacement dock structures because of the demand on manufacturers.

He got some, but the company couldn’t do the installation. He had them deliver the pieces.

“I said, ‘Hell, I can build anything,’” he said.

Hamilton had wrecked docks pushed out of the way to be demolished later, converted pontoons to work barges by adding raised platforms to get pieces of metal roofing closer to workers on top of slips, and used a topographic map of the bottom of the lake to put the anchors for the docks in the right places.

Some marinas on the lake have made more progress on repairs than others, but Corps of Engineers officials said all nine marinas are ready for visitors.

“We are good to go for this weekend, said Brooke Decker, office manager at Burnside Resort & Marina in Pulaski County. “It’s a big kickoff.”

There were good signs on Friday for a big holiday weekend, said Penny Jo Stearns, who does tourism promotion for Clinton County.

“We’re already over-run with boats,” she said.

Grider Hill Marina in Clinton County had significant damage from the snowstorm, but Stearns said crews have been working to get ready for the summer.

Hamilton said Friday that all the new slips at Lee’s Ford were under roof and had completed decks. Workers were finishing one walkway, and electrical work was coming along well.

“We’re 99 percent done,” he said. “It’s laid out nice.”

Dalton, the Somerset man who had his pontoon moored at Lee’s Ford during the January storm, said he liked the new docks and reconfigured layout at the marina.

“They’ve done an amazing amount of work since the snowstorm,” he said.