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Construction Begins on Gulf State Park Pier

By DAVID RAINER

With post-Hurricane Ivan red tape and settlement negotiations successfully completed, construction has finally started on the new Gulf State Park Pier at Gulf Shores.

Barnett Lawley, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), and Terry Boyd, Chief Engineer with ADCNR, said the new pier will be worth the wait.

“We’re mighty excited to have it under construction,” Lawley said. “It’s going to be the longest on the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve had people from all over calling about when it would be finished. When it is completed, we’re really going to have something to be proud of.

“The only thing is that we will have to close the area around the new construction. The end of the pier and 300 yards either side will be closed to boat traffic. We just ask people to bear with us.”

The new pier will be 20 feet wide and 1,512 feet long. It has a concession area with rest rooms, picnic tables, snack bar and tackle shop. About the halfway mark, more restrooms will be built, as well as a saltwater intake structure for the Marine Resources Division to use at its Claude Peteet Mariculture Center on the Intracoastal Waterway. The end of the pier is an octagon shape that is about 65 feet across, whereas the old pier’s end cap was only 30 feet wide.

Boyd said construction began on Dec. 3 and the pilings are already being delivered. The main contractor (LCI Inc. of Memphis, Tenn.) has 15 months to complete the project.

“But the sub-contractor said if all the pilings come in, he should have all the pilings driven by March,” Boyd said of M&N of Alabama of Magnolia Springs. “Hopefully, that will be the case. The 15 months would put completion in February of 2009, but they’re optimistic that they can work on the pier and parking lot simultaneously with the staging area at the old pier parking lot location. If they get good weather and the materials come in like they’re supposed to, they could be finished by late summer or fall next year.”

The new pier will have wooden handrails that meet the new American Disabilities Act guidelines, and the pier will be accessible by ramp from the parking lot. The parking lot will be about the same size as the old one with about 250 parking spaces with plenty of handicapped spaces.

“The concession area is going to be about 8,000 square feet,” Boyd said. “We’ll have an air-conditioned area where you can sit down and eat. We’ll have a place to buy licenses and your fishing tackle.”

Boyd said LCI became the low bidder of $16.2 million when the company that originally had the low bid withdrew their bid because it had inadvertently omitted insurance costs. Boyd also said they have found two areas where they can save money.

“We’re doing some value engineering, making some component changes on the concession area and the decking that’s going to save around $600,000,” he said. “We’re going to wooden panels instead of concrete panels, similar to the Pensacola pier. The decking will be 5-foot-square panels that the storm surge can blow out to keep from tearing up the superstructure. If you do lose some during a storm, it’s a lot easier to get treated lumber to make new panels than to get concrete panels made. On the old pier, if something got torn up, it would take six months to get a new concrete panel. After a hurricane, the pre-stress plants are making panels for bridges and roads and not replacement panels for the pier.

“We’re going to go from stainless steel hardware to galvanized on the concession building. The life expectancy won’t be as long. We’ll have to do a little more maintenance. The stainless steel would probably last 50 years. The galvanized, probably after 15-20 years we’ll have to do some coatings. But it’s a lot of money, so we felt like it was worth the savings. And we don’t know if we’ll have another Ivan or Katrina and blow it away before it has time to rust, so that is the reasoning.”

Boyd thoroughly researched other facilities to try to get the best of all of the current pier designs.

“We went to Pensacola and a couple of other places in Florida to look at their piers,” he said. “We talked to the people using them and tried to determine what to do and what not to do when we designed our pier. The handrail is not exactly fishing friendly, but it was a design the ADA required, so we didn’t have a choice.”

The new pier will also be two feet higher with an elevation of 20 feet above sea level, where the old pier was at elevation 18.

“The Pensacola pier is at elevation 26 and it survived Ivan, but after talking to people over there, they had complaints that their pier was too high and made it difficult to retrieve fish when they catch them,” Boyd said. “We chose to go a little higher for storm surge, but still make it low enough to make it easier for fishing. If the main use of the pier is designed for fishing, you’ve got to make it functional for that. If we get a Category 3 storm, we’re probably going to lose some panels and get some damage. If we get a storm surge like they got at Pass Christian (Miss.), we’re probably going to lose a lot of pier. We could build it 50 feet in the air and spend $50 million to make it hurricane proof, but then you couldn’t fish off of it. We chose to make it strong and secure to acceptable storm levels and keep it fishing friendly.

“The 1,512 feet was designed to be longer than any pier on the Gulf Coast. Pensacola claims to have the longest at 1,471 feet. I understand that Panama City and Walton County are supposed to building piers that are 1,500 feet, so our pier will still be the longest.”

The location of the new pier will be 250 feet east of the old pier.

“This was done for several reasons,” Boyd said. “One reason we’re moving the pier and parking lot is that Ivan blew out the parking lot and pier. Hurricane Frederic blew the parking lot out in 1979. People who were around a lot earlier than that said it was going to blow out a hole right where the old pier and parking lot were built every time there was a major hurricane. So we petitioned FEMA to move it to save money in the future.

“The main reason we moved it is it made it cheaper to construct because it wasn’t in the footprint of the old pier. We won’t be hitting stuff left over from previous storm damage when we’re trying to drive pilings. Plus, we’re planning to use the old pier as a staging area for the equipment during construction of the new pier. After the new pier is completed, what remains of the old pier will be used to build a reef around the new pier to enhance the fishing.”

PHOTO: One of the 50-foot pilings that will be used in construction of the Gulf State Park Pier gets off-loaded by the 150-ton crane at the new pier site 250 feet east of the pier that was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Ivan.           

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