The Flagler Beach pier has had so many facelifts it could be renamed the Joan Rivers Memorial Planks. The question is: should the old and rickety and yet-again-lobotomized structure be repaired at a potential cost of $650,000 and reopened one more time, even though it’s slated for demolition in less than a year?
The Flagler Beach City Commission wrestled with that dilemma Thursday evening, now that Hurricane Ian left the pier in pieces and again closed to the public indefinitely. Divers completed their examination of the structure this week. They’ve turned over their findings to engineers, who are evaluating the structure’s damage and soundness.
At least one of the commission’s members favors walling off the pier now, until the new one is built. But after hearing a list of options from City Manager William Whitson, the commission decided to delay a decision pending the final results of engineers’ evaluation. They are likely to discuss the matter at their next meeting on Oct. 27, when it will be an agenda item, enabling the public to weigh in.
Construction on a new, concrete pier will potentially begin next summer, City Manager William Whitson says. By then the wooden pier would be demolished or be close to being demolished. So Flagler Beach will be without a pier for at least two years regardless.
The city commission is wrestling with several questions: Is it worth reopening the pier for a few months until next spring or summer? Is it worth repairing the pier, possibly for hundreds of thousands of dollars, if engineers declare it unsafe otherwise? Repairs after Hurricane Matthew cost nearly $1 million, and that was without restoring the 165-foot section of pier lost to the storm.
Is it much of a pier anyway, now that it’s lost yet another 165 feet? Is the revenue it generates when open–Whitson says there’s been $3,000 days– enough to balance out the costs of reopening it?
The design of the new pier was set to begin just before the hurricane struck, Whitson said. That’s rescheduled to Oct. 20. Survey teams are already at work. The design will take six to eight months, he said. The project will then be put out to bid. “So nothing will actually start happening in terms of construction of the new pier until well into the summer of next year,” Whitson said. “So we have a lot of time yet. So the question before the commission is–do you want to take away the pier cold turkey? Or do you want to go through a conversation with the public, open up the pier if it’s safe?”
If the pier were to be re-opened, it might not be for more than six to eight months, assuming the pier is considered safe. The easternmost 150 feet would be blocked off.
If the pier needs repairs, it’s a different issue. “The the preliminary estimate to do a complete stabilization–the way we did in Matthew–after the last disaster is about $650,000. That was a preliminary estimate, that was without the dive team assessment. Maybe it’s less, maybe it’s more. I don’t know.”
There’s also the option of just leaving it closed and demolishing it. But even then, there’s a permitting process to go through, Whitson said.
Additional caveats: the city has pre-sold the equivalent of $14,000 to $18,000 in pier passes. Those would have to be refunded–and the pass holders found. The pier, where admission is charged to walk on or to fish, was “killing it” before the storm. “We were having $2,000 and $3,000 days,” Whitson said. But he made his preference known.
But both the mayor and some commissioners object to refunds. “If you sell a pier pass, you say if the pier falls into the ocean, sorry,” Mayor Suzie Johnston said. Commissioner Eric Cooley said that in any case the demolition of the pier had been scheduled for this winter, when passes would have been invalidated anyway.
“The best thing for us to do is use this time wisely, work with the design engineer, there’s no rush to take it down,” Whitson said. “And we can let the community utilize the asset until it’s time to start the construction.”
Commissioner James Sherman is more on the side of closing the pier unless it were to make up the money that’s been lost or even profit. “It’s a business decision we have to make and, I think it’s a responsibility we owe to our taxpayers,” he said, even if it means laying off pier staff.
Last year, the pier had total revenue of $471,000. Salaries alone cost $153,000. According to this year’s budget, the pier was expected to generate $434,000, not including $831,000 in federal reimbursements for repairs. Ticket sales last year generated $210,000. The bait shop generated $105,000. Pier rentals generated another $130,000. But every day the pier is closed lowers expected revenue.
“My personal opinion,” Sherman said, is to “put a temp wall up and then put a door on there,” and turn the wall into a mural.
Commissioners agreed only to ensure that the item once the commission makes a decision “will be posted, it will be attended,” so the public can speak its mind.
“I’d like to wait until we have all the information and then we can discuss something solid,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said. Commission Chairman Ken Bryan wanted a unified message issued to the public, but what that message may be remains unclear beyond what Whitson described as a working fact sheet. It was later published on the city’s website, and appears below.
Flagler Beach Fishing Pier Fact Sheet 1_10.14.22