Anna Maria declines wood pilings for pier rebuild

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Jay Saxena, Ayres Associates project leader for the Anna Maria City Pier rebuild, displays samples Jan. 29 of spun-concrete piles and composite piles available to replace the pier’s wood pilings. Islander Photo: Bianca Benedí

Anna Maria commissioners made a decision on one part of the Anna Maria City Pier rebuild: The pilings won’t be made of wood.

The commission voted 4-1 Jan. 29 to direct Ayres Associates to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for two potential materials for the piling construction: Spun-concrete piles or composite piles.

Commissioner Dale Woodland voted against the decision.

The city held a special fact-finding meeting Jan. 29 with Ayres Associates, the Tampa-based engineering firm contracted by the city to design and engineer the pier rebuild, to review options for the pilings.

Because of the risk of worm infestation and rot, as well as the decrease in the quality of available timber over time, wood pilings are not recommended for a structure designed to last 75 to 100 years, according to Jay Saxena, Ayres Associates project leader for the pier rebuild.

Commissioner Carol Carter brought up the Belle Haven cottage, a historical structure at Anna Maria Island Historical Museum that fell into the bay in 1926. According to historical information, Carter said, worms ate the pilings, causing the structure to collapse.

Woodland inquired about using timber pilings in a vinyl wrap.

Saxena responded that his firm wouldn’t extend the expected life span of a timber piling in a vinyl wrapping.

Anna Maria resident Dennis Ellsworth objected to the answer during public comments, noting that although he wasn’t sure wood was the best choice, he did not understand how vinyl would not extend the life of the wood.

Leni Hagen, a former bait shop employee at the Anna Maria City Pier, cited a passage from Carolyne Norwood’s “Anna Maria Island 1940-1970, Tales of Three Cities from Bean Point to Bridge Street,” which said worms had eaten the pilings due to “procrastination” on the part of the residents, who failed to care for the pilings.

“Maintenance has always been a problem” for the Anna Maria City Pier, Hagen said.

Hagen also said she hopes the city will look into sources of funding for maintaining the pier after it is rebuilt, and that the piling material selected will allow crustaceans to attach themselves.

She also commented that it “boggles (her) mind” that the pier was considered safe to host more than 300 people during the centennial celebration six years ago and that the “pilings are a total loss” today.

Commission Chair Doug Copeland said before making the motion for the cost-benefit analysis that the city has to “make decisions … and move on if we want to get this pier in the ground and people out there enjoying it.”

The commission has secured funding from the Manatee County Tourist Development Council and is seeking funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state of Florida on the basis of a pier with a 75-year life span, Copeland said.

Mayor Dan Murphy also has requested funding from a Manatee County reserve fund, money in excess of the contracted amount paid by the county beach concessionaire based on a percentage of its revenue.

Mitch Purdue, another Anna Maria resident, said in public comments that he believed the city only needed “a couple of million dollars” to rebuild the pier out of wood, a cost he said a city like Anna Maria should easily be able to secure.

“If your employee doesn’t want to look at wood, let a citizen committee look at it. … It’s not rocket science, it’s real simple,” he said.


From marine study to pier rebuild

      Murphy began the Jan. 29 city meeting with the commission and Ayres Associates by reviewing the history of the pier project.

The city commissioned a marine study from CBI Engineering in 2015 to determine the state of the city pier.

The study predicted the pier had a five-year expected life span and the city could either pursue a pier rebuild to extend the life span another 75 years, or a patchwork repair project that could extend the life span another 25 years.

The city issued a request for proposals in December 2016 to engineer the city repair work. Three firms responded to the proposal — Wantman Group Inc., McLaren Engineering Group and Taylor Engineering.

One by one, each company was ruled out, Murphy said, due to lack of response, high cost or project demands.

In order to attract new bidders, the city reissued the RFP in July 2017, combining design, engineering and construction services.

Two engineering firms — LTA Engineering and Ayres Associates – responded to the second RFP.

Before the city could review the bids from the second RFP, Hurricane Irma passed through Sept. 10-11, further damaging the pier.

Ayres Associates was available and able to get an engineering team out by the end of that week, Murphy said.

The team examined the pier, determined it should remain closed to the public, and said whether the city chose to repair or rebuild the structure, it would take more than 120 days to complete the project.

According to the terms of the city lease negotiated with Mario Schoenfelder in 2000, “total destruction” of the city pier is defined as any damage that would require closure of more than 120 days.

In a meeting in October 2017, the commission voted unanimously to design a pier rebuild with a 75-100 year life span over proposals for a shorter life span.

“I know there are conflicting stories, but those are the facts. That’s how we got here,” Murphy said Jan. 29.

“Ayres did not say we needed a new pier, the commission decided to build to 100 years.… The responsibility lies with the six of us today,” he said, referring to himself and the commissioners.

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