City says Jacksonville Beach Pier repairs could take 2 years

City of Jacksonville may sue pier's manufacturer, stalling start of repairs

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Repairs to the Jacksonville Beach Pier, which was heavily damaged in Hurricane Matthew, could take up to two years, according to the city of Jacksonville.

The pier has been closed since 350 feet of it was washed away in the storm surge and high winds of the hurricane in early October. The damage left the pier too dangerous to walk on.

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham said it should take about 10 months to repair the pier, but a representative from the building inspector's office in Jacksonville said the repairs will likely take much longer than 10 months. 

A city spokesperson said the pier is expected to be completely repaired within two years.

"Jax Beach is a nice beach, but the pier is a nice feature," said Debbie Liptan, who was visiting from out of town Monday. "It's nice to be able to walk out into the water and look out and contemplate and see the water and the waves."

News4Jax confirmed that the final report on the pier damage is complete, but the city refused to release the report, saying the pier is a public facility and releasing the report could pose a safety risk.

A sign posted at the pier, which is currently fenced off with locks and chains, says falling debris is possible and the structure is unstable.

Latham said on Sunday that repairs to the pier could be delayed by a potential lawsuit against the pier’s manufacturer.

“The general counsel for Jacksonville is looking for a possibility of legal action against the manufacturer,” Latham said. “The pier was designed to break away in high storms. In other words, the wood planks would break away, but the concrete pillars would remain intact and then we would only have to replace wood planks if we needed to. But, obviously, that didn't happen.”

Keith Doherty, the owner of Lynch’s Irish Pub and a Jacksonville Beach City Council member, said the wood slats on the pier were designed to take a hit from the waves underneath, rather than trapping the wave and causing more damage. He said that certainly worked, but the end portion falling into the ocean was not part of the design.

“We didn't expect the end of it to fall off in 90 mph winds,” Doherty said. “It was engineered to withstand up to 190 mph, so, of course, us as a City Council, and I'm sure Jacksonville, want to make sure that the thing is safe first and foremost.”

Liptan said the pier's closure won't necessarily stop her from visiting, but she would understand if it stopped other tourists -- a concern shared by Doherty.

“Don't let that deter you,” Doherty said. “We do have a lot of things to do out here at the beaches. We have our festivals, our bars and restaurants, we have quite nice parks.”

Doherty said all of the boardwalks at the beaches that were damaged in the hurricane will be fixed and ready to go by the spring and summer months. 

The inspector's office will put out a request for proposals for a consultant to analyze the damage that was found and whether the pier met the specifications it was designed for.

Latham said Jacksonville Beach can't go ahead with repairs and worry about the lawsuit later because the pier damage has to be seen as is until after any potential litigation is complete.

Edward Waters and Sons Contracting built the pier in 2004. The company has not responded to a request for comment.

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