“It’s really nice just standing out here—I love coming out here and looking at the city,” Jane Mealy, who chairs the Flagler Beach City Commission, said this morning. She was standing at the very end of the rebuilt Flagler Beach Pier, where workers were still applying coats of paint to a couple of kiosks and nailing down benches.
It was her first walk to the end of the pier in eight months, the first walk anyone not involved in the reconstruction had taken to the end of the pier since the rest of it—163 feet of it—was sheared off by Hurricane Matthew, since 600 floorboards were damaged or knocked out and lost and the pier itself was shaken to its foundations, requiring nearly $1 million in repairs.
Those repairs are coming to an end. This evening at the Flagler Beach Commission meeting, City Manager Larry Newsom made an announcement he’s been waiting to make for months: the pier is finally reopening.
It is reopening Saturday.
“I’m just ready for it to get opened so I can move on to the next 40 projects,” Newsom said in an interview. “This is kind of an economic engine for the area, so you get that done, it takes off a lot of pressure, that and dune access points.”
Moments later, Newsom conducted a walk-through of the pier with officials from Construction Co., the contractor hired for the $917,000 emergency repair job, who included Vice President Lindsay Buchanan, MiCha Johnson, the senior estimator and project manager, Chad Liner, the project engineer, and County Commissioner Rick Belhumeur. Mealy, who had been at an earlier event, arrived a little later.
Originally the project was expected to call for the replacement of 18 floor boards, those planks rich in etchings of memorials and commemorations—of weddings, of anniversaries, of love declarations for Flagler Beach, and of memorials for the departed. The project instead ended up requiring 665 planks, this time screwed in with stainless steel screws rather than with nails, since nails more easily rust and get pulled when waves crash against the floorboard from below.
The new wood contrasted with the old like horizontal layers of geological time, the smell of new wood still more pungent the smell of fish that will start replacing it after Saturday, when the fishermen return. Aside from its lost tip, which is no small loss—in length and width, as the tip had formed an ample T enabling a spread of fishermen to fish with elbow room—the pier will not look different than it had before the storm, though its 10 benches are much improved. They’re manufactured with a plastic-like recycled material that looks like wood and that’ll be a lot more resilient, smooth to the touch and splinter-free. The kiosks will be back, as will the low lighting.
The pier can sustain 60 pounds per square inch. That means, essentially, that it can be full of people, end to end, and safely bear the weight, Liner—the engineer—said: there will not be a limit on how many people may enjoy the pier at any one time, though typically only a couple of events such as Cheer at the Pier manage to jam up the structure. “It’s stronger than it’s ever been,” Belhumeur said.
The cost will not change to use the pier, “and anybody who already had passes we’re working that out as far as pro-rating it out,” Newsom said. (The walk-on daily rate is $1.50 for most, $1 for senior citizens and members of the military, and the fishing rate for a day pass is $6, but various passes are also available. Details here.)
Meanwhile, the city got its $1.2 million insurance check for pier damage, Newsom said, which should cover the cost of much of the repairs, though the FEMA settlement is still being worked on. That process is “very slow,” says John Rigling, a disaster recovery consultant for the city, from the firm CDR McGuire (which also works with Flagler County). “We have not submitted a project at this point to FEMA. There were ongoing changes to the project. Once all the documentation is put together, we’ll submit it.” Rigling added: “That doesn’t mean the cost for the recovery has climbed. The documentation has increased.”
The city plans a soft opening of the pier Saturday, then a more celebratory ribbon-cutting about a week later.
As for the long run: that’s to be decided. Should a longer pier be built, it likely won’t be the existing wooden pier, Newsom said, but a pier next to it. “I’m looking at probably 1,300 feet, minimum,” Newsom said, with the existing pier remaining in place for events and such things. “1,300 feet, that’s getting the fishermen out there where they want to be. Then I can retire.”
Newsom paused. A few waves rolled beneath more calmly than the half dozen surfers wished. Then he said: “Now all we’ve got to do is get A1A fixed and all the dunes access points, and we’re good to go.”
Newsom didn’t actually make it all the way to the edge of the rebuilt pier. He had another meeting to get to. So he left that to Belhumeur and Mealy. “I see how much safer, of course stronger they’ve made the pier,” Mealy said on that edge. “It feels really good to be standing here and not waving back and forth. I’m excited that it will be opened soon and people can go back to fishing. It’s one more back to normal, after the hurricane. I know the fishermen have been really, really anxious to return, and of course it’s more income to the city.”