Charter Season Feeling Cramps With Seawall Reconstruction Delay

William A. Irvin Is 10 Feet Closer To Docks During Seawall Work

DULUTH, Minn. – 12-hour work days, six days a week: That’s the new pace underway for the $6 million seawall reconstruction project in Duluth’s Minnesota Slip that the city says is scheduled to be completed by mid-June, with new bike lanes and sidewalks wrapping up in August.

The delayed seawall project has the William A. Irvin pushed out about 10 feet into the slip during construction, which has caused delays to that tourist attraction’s 2018 season.

But there are also concerns for the charter boating businesses on the other side of the slip that haven’t gotten much attention — until now.

On Tuesday, the docks were installed to give the captains a look at just how tight — and possibly dangerous — the situation is between their operations and the massive Irvin, as FOX 21’s Dan Hanger reports.

“This is a tough business for them,” said Dan Meierhoff, vice president of Marine Iron Properties and owner of the charter section of the slip. “They have a short window for their season out here, ya know, it’s four or five months long.”

But this season, which typically starts the first week of May — sometimes earlier — is being challenged in a big way not only with a prolonged icy winter on the lake but now the delayed seawall reconstruction project on the other side of the slip, which has the Irvin pushed out closer than ever to the charter docks.

Meierhoff told FOX 21 on Tuesday that the city plans to get the Irvin back in place by May 20 when the new seawall is expected to be finished for that part of the slip.

“We weren’t happy about it, but, ya know, they’re trying to get it done as quickly as they can, and we really want to solve these issues before June — before the main tourists show up,” Meierhoff explained.

Captain Paul Mazzuco of Optimum Charters has been operating in the slip for the past 10 years.

“This is just typical Duluth planning here,” Mazzuco said. “You’re losing tens of thousands of dollars, ya know, per week.”

Mazzuco says he’s been on the phone at all hours of the day taking cancellations for May because of the unknowns and trying to reschedule trips – some of which were reserved a year out.

“We have such a short window to make money with such a huge investment that if we’re not out their running every day, we’re not going to make anything in the end,” Mazzuco said.

And besides the financial loss, Mazzuco is even more concerned about safely maneuvering his boats in a smaller space for at least the first half of May, especially with the strong winds he says forms down by the slip that can be more than difficult even when the Irvin is in its usual spot.

“A veteran looks like he’s never ran a boat some days down here,” Mazzuco said. “You have to be safe first. I don’t want to come in here on a side wind and punch a whole on the side of my boat and be out for god knows how long.”

Meanwhile, it’s a day-by-day waiting game with the real test coming this Saturday when the newly painted Slip Bridge opens up for the season and the 13 charter operators can sail in.

“One of our plans we’ve been talking about is only putting one boat per opening … instead of two boats per opening, so that would leave us a lot more room to maneuver, too,” Mazzuco said.

“Our main goal is to get these guys out floating and catching fish as soon as they can,” Meierhoff said.

DECC executive director Chelly Townsend told FOX 21 Tuesday that the Irvin could be open the first week of June if all goes as planned.

That means the Irvin will either be against the new seawall with a ramp over the construction of the new walkway and bike path, or behind the DECC where the Vista Fleet boats will be operating by May 7.

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