By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
That old adage about making lemonade when you’re presented with a difficult situation applies perfectly to Alabama’s Gulf State Park Pier.
Just as one of the Gulf of Mexico’s premier piers was set to reopen after a substantial renovation last September, Hurricane Sally made a direct hit on the Alabama Gulf Coast and the pier was significantly damaged. A 200-foot section near the octagon on the end of the pier collapsed.
Thankfully, the Alabama State Parks staff went to work on the portion of the pier that could be safely repaired, and in January the pier past the middle restroom section, called the T, was reopened to anglers and visitors.
“I am very glad to get a portion of the pier reopened after the damage caused by Hurricane Sally,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “A walk out on the Gulf State Park Pier is a time-honored tradition of locals and visitors alike. A trip to the Gulf is not complete without experiencing the sights from the pier.
“I am really glad for the fishermen to have access again. Not everyone has a boat. The Gulf State Park Pier provides quality recreational angling for thousands of shore-based fishermen each year. From the red drum in the fall, whiting and sheepshead abundance in the winter, spotted sea trout and pompano in the spring to king and Spanish mackerel runs in the summer, with an occasional cobia catch mixed in, the pier offers excitement for fishermen during every season.”
After Sally hit, ADCNR had the damaged assessed by engineers for guidance on how to proceed. Displaced floor panels, plumbing, electrical wiring and lighting had to be repaired or replaced.
“Obviously, we were disappointed in the damage to the pier right before we were set to reopen after a $2.4 million renovation,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The damage was caused by events outside our control. Hurricane issues are just a part of life on the Gulf Coast. As always, we will regroup and bounce back. We quickly got the contractor back in to repair what they could on the portion of the pier that was still standing. We had to make sure it was safe.”
Lamar Pendergrass, Alabama State Parks South Region Operations Supervisor, said although the pier was built for the deck panels to dislodge to save the infrastructure, Sally’s incessant pounding took its toll.
“The panels were designed to be blown out,” Pendergrass said. “As long as Sally sat there with her wind, waves and storm surge, the panels did their job. We actually recovered about 99 percent of the panels that had just been restored and placed on the pier. We had the same contractor, Mike Thomas, come in with his crew and we reopened as much of the pier as we could safely reopen.
“In some areas, large sections of the handrails were gone. We had to redo the deck panels. Some of them had to be repaired or replaced. We had lighting, electrical and plumbing that had to be repaired. It was almost a rebuild after the rebuild.”
Pendergrass said assessments by engineers deemed about 175 feet past the T was safe to reopen, but a section near the collapsed portion sustained damage, which limited the area that could be safely accessed.