Replacement pier study may take years to complete

There is hope for a new pier in Holmes Beach to replace the Manatee Public Beach pier torn down in 2009 after an engineer’s report deemed the structure unsafe.

After Bridge Design Associates of West Palm Beach issued a report that the pier should be closed and torn down, county commissioners voted on March 3, 2009, for a replacement pier.

Conceptual plans were then drawn for a pier extending about 200 feet into the water with an approach ramp that would comply with the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Unfortunately for proponents of a replacement pier, declining property values and accompanying lower revenues quickly ruled out any county funding for a new pier. The project was tabled, and county administrator Ed Hunzeker has not put a new pier in any county budget submitted to the commission since the March 2009 vote.

However, pier lovers may not have to wait for better times.

Manatee County Natural Resources director Charlie Hunsicker said a study of the beach sand where the pier once stood is ongoing. If the study determines that the pier served to anchor beach sand and prevented or slowed beach erosion, a new pier could be provided from the resort tax fund, he said.

The resort tax is the 5 percent tax collected on all accommodation rentals under six months in Manatee County. The funds are used for beach renourishment projects that occur every six to 10 years on Anna Maria Island.

“If it’s determined that the old pier played a role in keeping beach sand in place,” said Hunsicker, “a new pier could be funded with the resort tax.” But the replacement would have to be a low-profile pier about 8-feet above the mean-high water line — similar to the design of the previous pier — to ensure it would help retain sand on the beach.

But don’t expect a decision any time soon.

Hunsicker said the study might take up to two years to complete, maybe longer. And the answer may not help fund a new pier.

If the study finds that the old pier did not help keep the beach from eroding at that location, it would “not be appropriate to use beach renourishment funds” to build a new pier, Hunsicker said. If that’s the case, alternate funding sources would have to be found for a new pier, he said.

In 2009, Hunsicker estimated a new pier similar to the old public beach pier would cost about $1.6 million. The cost to tear down the old pier and remove all the pilings and concrete was $670,000.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a former Holmes Beach mayor and city commissioner, said the county commission approved a new pier when the old one was declared unsafe and closed. And she’s holding her colleagues to that vote.

“I think we owe it to our residents to build a replacement pier. It was a great attraction and everyone who came to the public beach would use it. It was great for fishing, sunning, watching the water or sunsets or just watching people on the beach,” Whitmore said.

She doesn’t want to wait two years for an answer and said she’ll look for other funding sources as the beach erosion study continues.

Rick Spadoni of Coastal Planning and Engineering, the county’s contracted marine engineering firm, said the study of beach erosion in the area of the MPB was begun and should be completed by spring 2012.

He said the completed survey would be compared with prior beach erosion surveys done when the pier was operational.

Coastal also is surveying beach erosion for the planned 2014-15 beach renourishment project for portions of Anna Maria Island beaches.

Coastal has completed a number of beach erosion studies for Manatee County and other Florida governments, including Longboat Key. Spadoni said each study is different because each beach has different sand composition and currents that affect the beach.

“We’re going as rapidly as possible,” he said.

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