In what one of the designers of Flagler Beach’s new pier described as “a big milestone in the federal regulatory process,” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued notice that it is reviewing the permit application for the new pier, and soliciting public comment about detailed construction plans that had not been disclosed until now.
The permit application was filed by Mike Abels in what appears to be one of his last and most consequential acts as interim city manager. The city bid farewell to him last week as he was replaced by Dale Martin.
The Corps’ Jacksonville District published the notice on July 28 and will take public comment until Aug. 28. It does not appear to facilitate comments by email. Rather, it states, comments regarding the potential permitting “should be submitted in writing to the attention of the District Engineer through the Jacksonville Permits Section, 701 San Marco Boulevard, Jacksonville, Florida 32207, before Aug. 28.
“The decision whether to issue or deny this permit application will be based on the information received from this public notice and the evaluation of the probable impact to the associated wetlands,” the Corps states.
Once the corps issues a permit, the city can bid out the project, and construction would begin. For Flagler Beach–downtown Flagler Beach in particular–that means a very busy, very noisy, often congested and disruptive period ahead, considering that pier construction may coincide with the just-announced construction plans for the new, 100-room Margaritaville Hotel a few blocks away from the pier. That construction begins in September and will last 18 months. In addition to that, the Army Corps is overseeing a massive beach renourishment project starting a few blocks south of the pier next June. Based on today’s timelines, all three projects could be unfolding simultaneously, at least for a time.
The permit application for the pier includes detailed construction plans, impacts and contractor responsibilities as the old pier is demolished and a new one is built in its place.
The pier has been damaged and rebuilt numerous times in its 95-year history. But it’s lost almost a third of its length in successive storms since 2016, from Hurricanes Matthew to Irma to Ian.
Before demolition begins, Flagler Beach residents and visitors will see quite a massive addition to the seascape around the pier: a 33,000 square foot temporary construction trestle will be built on the south side of the existing pier. The trestle will be 1,000 feet long and 30 feet wide, its timber deck about 28 feet above a standard, universal elevation known in the industry as the North American Vertical Datum of 1988, and referred to as NAVD 88. (It’s similar to universal time, but for elevations.)
Some 200 feet of the trestle will reach east of the mean high watermark. Those 200 feet will not be under the jurisdiction of the Corps, though its impacts will still be reviewed according to federal regulations.
The trestle construction alone will take 50 to 54 days. The Corps does not specify whether those are work days or whether they are the entire length of the trestle construction period, nor does it mention storm contingencies, if work days are lot to weather. The trestle will be built of 116 piles, each 24 feet wide and made of steel. The piles will be drilled into the bottom with a vibrator hammer at a rate of five piles per day. The rest of the materials that will go into the trestle construction will be up to the contractor. That contractor has not been chosen yet: its identity is pending the Corps’ issuance of the permit and Flagler Beach’s issuance of bids.
The trestle will be used for demolition using land-based equipment, including a pile extractor / vibratory hammer. If piles break during removal, the contractor will cut the remaining pile at the mudline, presumably leaving the buried portion buried. A barge with a crane and a support vessel for divers may be needed to remove existing debris on the seafloor.
“The Corps is aware of recorded historic resources within or adjacent to the permit area and is evaluating the undertaking for effects to historic properties as required under … the National Historic Preservation Act,” the Corps states. The Corps has also determined that the project will affect sea turtles and manatees, among numerous other species (including the eastern indigo snake, the wood stork, Atlantic sturgeon and smalltooth sawfish), but “is not likely to adversely affect” sea turtles or manatees, though “Indirect effects could occur due to fishing or entanglement.”
Notably, the project will require a “dedicated manatee observer,” with all work required to immediately stop if a manatee is observed within 1,000 feet of the project area. All work would have to be done in daylight hours.
Demolition consists of removing what remains of the pier–7,760-square-feet of timber on top of 108 timber piles. The contractor will be responsible for preserving the integrity of the older portion and avoid damage to it. Any damage incurred that has not been specifically designated for demolition will be the responsibility of the contractor to repair and return to its original condition.
“The timber from the historical pier be collected as part of the demolition for future reuse,” the Corps states. “Therefore, care will be taken to carefully cut and remove all existing planks, handrails, joists, caps, braces, piles and any other timber elements during demolition. These items will then be transported to an upland storage location for sorting and distribution.”
Materials that will not be preserved “will be removed to an upland location and disposed of appropriately.” The contractor will actually take possession (and own) that material, disposing of it as it sees fit as long as it’s within regulations. But all excavated materials will have to be removed daily from the site. The contractor will be responsible for debris control and clean-up, in the water and outside of it.
One element is not addressed in the application and the Corps’ response, and has some local officials concerned: how the Funky Pelican restaurant is to be handled during construction–whether and how it can remain open, and what would be done to mitigate impacts on its business. The noise factor alone is likely to have a severe impact on business.
Moffat and Nichol, the design firm Flagler Beach hired, is designing a pier 11 feet higher than the existing one, to account for sea level rise. The 800-foot pier will be concrete, overtopped by wood panels, and will preserve the first 113 feet of the existing pier. That segment will require structural repair, including “installation of structural pile jackets, repair of pile caps, stringers and bracing, and replacement of connection hardware and tie-downs,” the Corps states.
That pier will end up being 20,840 square feet, extending 715 feet (and 25 feet wide) from the mean high water line, with a 20 by 32-feet-wide T-head, 28 feet above the surface. The actual length of the full pier will be 828 feet. It’ll rest on 116 piles made of 24-inch-square prestressed concrete that will be installed by impact hammer or jetting at a maximum rate of four piles per day. The project area covers waters of depths of up to 25 feet. Studies conducted in 2011 and 2019 showed no aquatic vegetation or reefs below the surface.
The deck will be a combination of concrete and wood, with the wood installed in such a way that it would intentionally break away during severe storms, as a stress reliever. The pier would be ADA-compliant, with a 5 percent slope, handrails, a firewater system, fish cleaning stations and trash receptacles, benches, shade structures, and marine turtle-friendly lighting.
Flagler Beach is estimating that 250 to 300 anglers would use the pier every day during peak season, in addition to 200 to 250 daily visitors. The full construction plans submitted with the permit application are below.
Flagler Beach secured at least $10 million in Federal Emergency Management Administration reimbursements for the pier project, and last spring, secured an additional $4.5 million for pier removal and replacement. Last January, then-City Manager William Whitson estimated the cost of the replacement to fall between $17 and $18 million. But construction costs have remained on an upward trajectory, and actual costs are likely to be significantly higher. It isn’t yet clear where the balance of the money for the pier will come from.