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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 11, 201905:10 AM EST

City seeking bids to repair Jacksonville Beach Pier

About half of the structure was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

An estimated $8 million repair of the Jacksonville Beach Pier damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 will begin by November, according to the mayor’s office.

The work could take 18 months, pushing the opening to May 2021, almost five years after the damage that closed nearly half of the pier.

There was additional damage in 2017 from Hurricane Irma.

Nikki Kimbleton, director of public affairs for Mayor Lenny Curry, said the partial rebuild of the pier will be paid for by a combination of insurance payments, Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement and money from the city. An estimate of how much would come from the city was not available.

The city published a request for proposals June 19 seeking contractors to rebuild several sections of the fishing and pedestrian amenity, considered a draw for residents and tourists. The pier is at 503 N. First St. in Jacksonville Beach.

Kimbleton said section 25 through the end of the pier at section 34 were demolished during the October 2016 storm.

The RFP calls for contractors to remove sections 12 to 25 from the structure and rebuild it to 34 sections, or “nearly the same length as before,” Kimbleton said. The rebuilt sections will slope gradually upward toward the end by an additional 8 feet to better withstand storm surge. 

The 15-year-old pier closed when the storm damaged about 20% of it while roughly half remains open. The pier is owned by the city of Jacksonville. 

The structure replaced the original pier that was leveled in September 1999 by Hurricane Floyd. At that time, the city, Jacksonville Beach and the Duval County Tourist Development Council built the $4.2 million replacement. 

The pier’s three-year closure has impacted Jacksonville Beach area residents and business owners. 

Rick Hale has owned Rick’s Bait and Tackle at Jacksonville Beach for more than 30 years and belonged to the Florida Pier Anglers Association.

Beach access in the days and weeks after Matthew was difficult because of beach erosion and 10- to 15-foot embankment drop-offs.

Hale said the pier’s partial closure discouraged people from fishing at Jacksonville Beach.

“It’s a rough time for a lot of the bait and tackle stores. The pier is used by lower-income people to fish who can’t afford a boat and the elderly who can’t get on to a boat,” Hale said. 

“The pier situation has been a mystery to me. I’ve never seen anything like it. Why it took so long, I don’t know,” he said.

District 13 Jacksonville City Council representative Rory Diamond said FEMA’s slow financial award process and mandated environmental studies and the permitting procedures of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection resulted in the project’s delay.

When pier construction is complete, Diamond said engineers have assured him that the sloped design will allow it to withstand weather-related events no matter the storm surge and it “will be around for 100 years.” 

Hale, who was a Jacksonville Beach City Council member in the 1980s, said when the pier was built in 2003, the structure was not made to account for storm surge.

 Noise and visitor safety during the reconstruction also are a concern, although Diamond said most of the work will take place on barges offshore. The pier will see periodic shutdowns during construction. 

When the pier reopens, Diamond said he’ll look to Jacksonville Beach to find ways to make use of the attraction. 

The environmental permits do not allow restaurants or other entertainment programming on the pier, he said.

“The city of Jacksonville Beach will take over management of the pier when construction is compete. I’m looking for them to come up with a creative way to maximize the potential of the pier,” Diamond said.

Sealed bids for construction are due by 2 p.m. July 24, when the city will release the bid details. 

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