JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Jacksonville Beach’s most iconic and visited landmark is closer to reopening, but it’s a slow, painstaking process that’s expected to take at least another year and a half.
Construction has resumed on the Jacksonville Beach Fishier Pier, which sustained extensive damage and lost a quarter of its length during Hurricanes Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Originally built in 1999, the pier was destroyed by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. It reopened in 2004 but has been closed since last November as crews restore the structure as part of a nearly $10 million taxpayer-funded project.
The new parts of the pier are supposed to be bigger and more durable, which is no small feat, according to the contractors, who gave News4Jax a tour of their progress.
Tom Goldsbury, project manager and former building director for the city of Jacksonville, is back on the job after overseeing the pier’s original construction. Goldsbury said it was tough to watch Matthew destroy much of the structure.
“Being that I was involved in the building of it, it was not fun for me to see it coming down. Right away I thought about, ‘What are we going to do? How far is it going to come down? Why did it come down?’” Goldsbury told News4Jax.
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On this project, Goldsbury is in charge of three contractors hired to restore the pier to its former glory and bring it back, taller and stronger. Those contractors include Hal Jones Contracting, RSH Engineering and England-Thims and Miller.
“They’ve got all these piles to drive, beams to set, concrete to set,” Goldsbury said.
Beachgoers are quick to notice that construction crews are building a temporarily pier alongside the fishing pier. It’s there to support the cranes and supplies needed for the construction project, which are too heavy for the existing structure.
“You can see all the equipment necessary to do this,” Goldsbury said. “And you’ve got to keep moving that equipment out with you, which takes time.”
The project is scheduled to be completed by April 2021. The first section, which is in tact, should be the same. The second section, which will be inclined upward, was partially rebuilt after the storms so part of the pier could be reopened temporarily.
A third section of the pier, which is currently missing, will be rebuilt eight feet higher to protect it from the impact of future storms. It’s unclear whether that will provide a long-term solution.
“That’s why you have to make the decision,” Goldsbury told News4Jax. “We could go up 20 feet, it would cost a lot more, fisherman would not be happy being 20 feet more in the air. And you never know if you’re going to get that storm.”
There have been hurdles, like over the summer when construction shut down for nearly two months because a federal wildlife permit wasn’t approved in time. There’s also the matter of debris in the water that needs to be removed.
Weather’s been favorable so far, but crews hope to get through this Atlantic hurricane season and next year’s without interruptions.
“You’ve got to do it right, you want to make sure that it’s going to last,” Goldsbury said.
When it comes to the new pier, the builders are asking for patience. They’re also asking people to stay away from the pier. If you do need to pass under it, there’s a designated tunnel.
While the pier project is funded by Jacksonville taxpayers, an insurance policy is helping defray some of the cost. City leaders are also hoping to get FEMA funds, which they applied for.