By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Lamar Pendergrass had a dream several years ago when he became the South Region Operations Supervisor for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) State Parks Division.
Pendergrass’s goal was to restore and upgrade the Gulf State Park Pier in Gulf Shores with durable materials that would stand up to the salty environment of the Alabama Gulf Coast. He accomplished that goal with one day to enjoy the work. Just as one of the Gulf of Mexico’s premier piers was set to reopen in 2020 after a $2.4 million renovation, 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.
“When I first took this job, one of the major projects for me was the renovation of the pier itself,” Pendergrass said. “I met with (ADCNR) Commissioner (Chris) Blankenship and Deputy Commissioner (Ed) Poolos and walked the pier. I told them it wasn’t going to do anything but get worse. Because of the saltwater conditions and the sun beating down on it, it was in need of repairs and upgrades.”
Commissioner Blankenship is the Lead Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustee for Alabama. He worked with the other NRDA Trustees to acquire the $2.4 million in funding to totally renovate the Gulf State Park Pier in 2020
Pendergrass added, “We went with ipe (pronounced ee-pay) wood for the decking and railing, which was more expensive but a lot more durable.
“About the time we got ready for the reopening, here came Sally, which put us where we are now. The concrete pilings that hold the decking and boardwalk up, once they started collapsing, it was kind of a domino effect out to the octagon. Basically, we have an open gap of about 200 feet from what we call the nub to the octagon now.”
Pendergrass now has a new dream that will hopefully be fulfilled by late summer 2024. Bids to repair the hurricane damage came in much higher than expected, and ADCNR had to go through a lengthy process to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to agree to provide funds for the repairs. The job was awarded to MD Thomas Construction, which had done the previous renovation, at $13.6 million.
Because of the extensive work to be done, the pier will be closed for the duration of the repairs. The pier closed at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
“The parking lot will also be barricaded because we have to treat this as a construction zone,” Pendergrass said. “The pier area will not be an access to the beach for anyone. There will be no public restrooms here.
“MD Thomas started mobilizing on Monday with plans to have a barge moved into the pier area when the weather allows. From that point, we just hope to see work beginning and the pier to start to take shape again.”
While the pier is closed, park visitors can access the beach at Cotton Bayou, Alabama Point, Shell Beach and Beach Pavilion, and the Romar Beach access will soon be open with improvements.
Pendergrass said the first task for the contractor will be to remove the concrete pilings that collapsed and have been underwater since the hurricane. Pendergrass hopes the removal of the debris will take a couple of months, but he knows the weather will be a significant factor in the timing.
“In addition to taking away what’s down, they are going to be repairing some of the standing pilings that had a little bit of damage,” he said. “They will send divers down to do repairs on those as well.”
Although the octagon survived Sally, Pendergrass said the improvements were pretty much gone.
“From what I’ve been able to tell, the octagon was pretty much stripped,” he said. “The deck seems to be intact. There is also an elevator out there that we really have no idea what shape it’s going to be in. Once the repairs are made out to the octagon, we’ll have to evaluate what we have and start making the deck panels. A lot of the handrail and decking on the octagon are going to have to be replaced or repaired.
“The entire lighting equipment for that 200-foot section and the octagon will have to be replaced. There’s a lot to do, but we’re very optimistic about when we’ll be able to open back up.”