The Flagler Beach pier as you’ve known it is over. The Flagler Beach City Commission Thursday evening agreed to condemn the rickety structure, a large part of which was lost to Hurricane Ian, larger parts of which were left more hazardous by the storm, and most of which is no longer safe to walk on.
The pier will remain walled off, with a more blunt barrier to go up soon close to the A-frame. The Bait shop and the Funky pelican restaurant are not affected. The city studied whether to repair the pier and reopen it for as long as possible before it must be demolished anyway ahead of the construction of a new pier. That proved cost-prohibitive.
If the pier were to be made safe, it would cost “somewhere between $1.7 and $2 million,” Chad Lyner, an engineer with Mott MacDonald, a city consultant, said. “You would take about a four month time period for design, a month for bidding, a month for contract procurement, and then another seven or eight months of repair, so you’re looking at somewhere between 12 and 14 months just to be able to get the pier back up.” But the pier was to be demolished inside that time window.
Instead, the timetable of the pier’s demolition will be accelerated, with more immediate demolition of 125 to 150 feet of the more dangerous east end of the pier ahead.
“The pier should remain closed and not allow for public access no farther than the existing plastic entry gate adjacent to the bait station,” Lyner said. “The only access that should be allowed to the corner of the lifeguard building where a four-foot barricade wall should be constructed, shall be a maximum of 10 city employees. And that is the yellow line that stretches between the plastic entry gate and the new barricade wall that will be constructed at the eastern edge of the lifeguard buildings.” The reason: the pier l;ost between 3 and 7 feet of sand below the surface, and up to 12 feet in “pockets” at the eastern end of the pier. So the piles is far less supported, or braced, by supportive sand. “That is the reason why the pier should remain closed at this current time.” (Lyner oversaw a Mott MacDonald report that outlined the pier’s damage and that was first reported here on Monday. See: “Report Describes Flagler Beach Pier as ‘Unsafe’ and Partly in Ruins, Calling for Keeping It Off Limits.”)
The city is piecing together the money, the permits and the timetable to demolish the pier and build a new, 800-foot concrete pier in its place, a project that the new pier’s project manager said could be completed three years from now.
“I think it can be done in approximately, maybe, maybe, 14 to 16 months, I think is a very it’s very doable,” said Gabe Smith, a senior civil and coastal engineer and project manager with Moffatt & Nichol, the designer of the new pier. He was referring to the construction period only. Design, permitting and bidding will more than double that time. “I do think that three years from where we’re at now to a finish product is certainly a realistic target to shoot for. And we’re going to do everything we can on the engineering design side and on the permitting side to try to accelerate that schedule. And then of course, with construction, we’re going to try to design something that’s going to be buildable, and that’s also going to help improve that schedule as well.”
The new pier’s cost, now estimated at between $15 to $18 million, will be covered by Federal Emergency Management Administration, or FEMA, reimbursements for damages incurred from Hurricane Matthew and Ian. At least that’s the assumption the city is going on, having already taken in a portion of the money from Hurricane Matthew payments.
But Many questions remain unanswered. It’s not yet known how much demolition will cost, or whether that cost is included in FEMA reimbursements. Lyner said an “abbreviated” or speeded-up timetable to demolish the pier “will be covered–probably–under the contract that will be for the pier replacement.” It’s not yet known when demolition can begin. That, too, requires significant permitting. It’s not yet known when the series of regulatory steps necessary ahead of building the new pier will begin. It’s not yet known whether the bait shop can be kept open without incurring losses.
“It’s stuff he has to work out, it’s not up to us,” City Commissioner Jane Mealy said of those timetables, a reference to City manager William Whitson.
Whitson is very good at drawing up task lists. His ability to execute the tasks without blaming others when falling short has not sparkled equally. He now faces the biggest challenge of his tenure, coming off a year that saw some commissioners questioning his ability to stay on task, meet deadlines and keep them sufficiently informed when problems develop. On Thursday evening, Whitson projected confidence but had few hard-numbered answers.
“That’s one of their very first tasks is what’s the schedule,” Whitson said. “The second task is what the budget is. And then the third task is the design. And we’ll be talking about all of those things.” Permitting will be the critical path between now and the bidding process.
The pier project will define Whitson’s tenure. He can no longer use the phrase he’s worn to threads since his arrivals, every time problems have arisen: “That was before my time.” The pier reconstruction is his time, and city commissioners’ reputations will hinge on his management of it.
For commissioners, the most immediate concerns are the now clear and present dangers the pier poses to anyone in its vicinity–dangers far more pronounced than assumed in the speculative days after Hurricane Ian, when it looked broken and shaken, but still standing. According to Commissioner Eric Cooley, former City Manager Larry Newsom had predicted that, even with $1 million post-Matthew and Irma repairs to the pier, it would not survive another storm. He was right.
“This is now a safety hazard,” Cooley said. “There shouldn’t be any logical discussion about even anything else. They can’t go on it. Heck, our city staff can’t even go on. But because it is so [unsafe], that needs removed, and it needs removed sooner than later, because you’re going to be getting in the noreaster season, you’re going to have sections continuing to break off, and you’re going to be a hazard to residents, you’re going to be a hazard to marine traffic, all kinds of other issues. And under a state of emergency, that’s the type of thing that this would call for us to get that address, the same way you would any walkover or anything else that gets destroyed.”
“The only question I have is whether that would be a reimbursable cost or not,” Whitson said.
Lyner said dangling sections of pier at the far eastern end need to be removed for safety, and the very end of the pier needs to be stabilized. That means a needed, immediate removal of “somewhere around 150 feet” from the eastern end of the pier. That’s could be limited to 125 feet, Lyner said, for the safety of swimmers. Swimmers or surfers must be kept away from the end of the pier, and especially from pulling and tugging on dangling lines or debris that could provoke a catastrophic and potentially life-threatening collapse of additional sections.
“So there’s two concerns. One of course is, we’ve killed the electric going out there, so that when people grab those lines, hopefully they don’t get shocked,” Whitson said. “The second part is obviously removing the shaky pieces that the two bents he mentioned, and the third piece is having a dive team go and scour the bottom and remove all of the boards with nails and and other kinds of hazards that are in the water.”
The city is worried about liability. “I know that if people are really wanting to do it, they’re going to do it, but I think we would be less liable if at least we put something out there if we could,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said.
As one option, Lyner said a form of buoyed barrier could be lined around the pier to keep people away, but Cooley called it “throwing good money after bad,” and that it would be “completely ineffective” with swimmers and surfers taking to the water even in hurricane conditions.
“It’s an open and obvious hazard,” City Attorney Drew Smith said, in answer to whether the city has liability. “The more we do to put people on notice, yes, the better, but I don’t think anybody can claim I didn’t realize that that was a hazardous situation.”
As for the section of pier closest to the A-frame, the bait shop, the restaurant, all that appears safe, for now. But even that assumption has not been verified. “From what we understand the pier portion is structurally sound in that area that is closest to the dunes, that has the [Funky] Pelican adjacent to it,” said Gabe Smith, the engineer with Moffatt & Nichol. That was based on his review of the Mott MacDonald report, not on first-hand analysis. He noted: “We’re also going to have a structural inspection team here next week, that is going to be taking a look at if there are any potential reinforcements that are necessary in that first portion as well. We’ll have that report here in the coming weeks.”
Other issues: residents are going to want their piece of the old pier, raising matters of conservation. But that issue, raised by Cooley, was not yet addressed.
And the city, with Commission Chairman Ken Bryan especially pushing that approach, is considering ways to keep the bait shop open, at least on a trial basis, as long as it’s not kept open for the sake of keeping it open–at a loss. “It’s just a matter of, can the sales cover labor, and if they can, perfect. If they can’t, then then we’re going to have to take a look at–is this smart.”
For all the unanswered questions, Thursday’s discussion was largely upbeat, because it was intended primarily to decide whether to close the pier for good, and to set out a very broad framework over the months and years ahead, not to give specific numbers just yet. The county’s tourism director added to what cheer at the pier could be salvaged by revealing the results of a brainstorming session she had with her staff about how to make the coming months and years without a pier not only more bearable, but happily commemorative.
Lukasik is following up on a proposal by Commissioner James Sherman to turn the pier barrier into an art wall that could also double up as a photo-op area. She is proposing to keep the pier area a cultural and tourism focal points while it’s closed and during construction. Students in the county could be encouraged to write “odes” to the pier, recalling their memories, while a “pier through the years” concept would be developed with the nearby Flagler Beach museum, showing the history of the pier, its many storm encounters, its repeated Lazarus acts. She is proposing ways to involve restaurants, children and artists in the commemoration, with events set up by the pier–all ideas the commission welcomed and expects to see through a more formal presentation in the future.