GLADSTONE - With the city planning a complete rebuild of the harbor, Gladstone residents are reminiscing about the construction of the piers that have been a feature of the harbor for 32 years.
"This was all done with volunteer labor against a lot of odds," said Robert Heynssens, designer of the current dock system.
Before the piers were added to the harbor in 1980, few boats could be docked in the harbor. "All we had at that time was just the seawall. You can't put very many boats there because we had them all end to end," said Heynssens.
Despite having reserved spots along the sea wall, Heynssens and his friend Doug Wescott began to discuss adding slips, small piers for docking boats, to the harbor. "It's really a nice little harbor, and it would be good for a lot of people who would like to be here," Heynssens remembered telling Wescott.
Adding slips to the harbor was not a popular idea with all Gladstone residents or harbor users. Some believed that adding the slips would allow too many boats. Heynssens recalled one harbor user asking, "Why do you want to do that? We've got this harbor to ourself. We've got a spot."
Heynssens and others who wanted the slips to be added took the issue to the city commission, but the news was not good. To have the slips professionally installed would cost the city $250,000, and the city would need to enter into a maintenance contract for an additional $5,000 a year - something the city could not afford.
Frustrated, Heynssens, who has multiple patents but no formal engineering background, decided to take matters into his own hands. With the help of engineer Jim Clark, Heynssens developed a four-page blueprint for a one-of-a-kind slip system.
Each 30-foot-long slip rests on Schedule 80 steel pipes that slide over each other. The pipes, which have half-inch thick walls and weigh approximately 600 pounds each, allow the deck to move up and down to adjust for changes in water depth or pressure from ice.
A single Michigan Waterways employee saved the city from wading through red tape while the slips were being built by keeping the project a secret. The employee warned Heynssens not to inform Michigan Waterways. When a letter about the project crossed his desk, the employee intercepted it.
"He said, 'Bob, If this happens again you will not build anything there, I promise you, because if it gets out of my hands I can't stop it. It's going to just be another bureaucratic thing,'" remembered Heynssens.
Residents and businesses donated time and materials to the project. Heynssens noted that even though he could not remember the name of every volunteer, he was grateful for the work they did to improve the harbor. "I don't want to leave anyone out," he said.
By the time the harbor was completed the city of Gladstone had only contributed $3,000, according to Heynssens. All other costs were paid for by the volunteers and businesses that believed in the project.
Rebuilding the harbor will cost $450,000. The costs will be paid by money from grants, the Downtown Development Authority, and marina funds. The project will add more slips, update utilities, and add a solar powered de-icing system.