ANNA MARIA – City resident Richard Bristow suggests that city officials are showing a lack of urgency in reopening the pier.
He makes his case in a Tuesday, Jan. 16 email to Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy regarding the closure of the Anna Maria City Pier in September. Hurricane Irma damaged the aging structure, which already was scheduled for complete rehabilitation within the next five years.
The pier closure resulted in immediate and unexpected unemployment for those who worked at the pier-based restaurant and bait shop; other businesses located near the pier are now feeling the economic impact of its continued closure.
“As a 15-year resident and a person that frequented the City Pier on a regular basis, I am appalled at the lack of urgency displayed by the city of Anna Maria in regards to repairing the pier. I was at the meeting in early December where the engineer tried to talk and was very unimpressed. I urge the city to have an open meeting regarding the whole process and get some input from Island residents. There are a lot of unhappy people,” Bristow’s email to Murphy said.
“As you may recall, on October 17, the City Commission voted unanimously to ‘build the Anna Maria City Pier with a life expectancy of 75-100 years.’ This is the direction I gave to our city engineering team to use in the functions of securing federal and state permits, preparing construction/material options and developing time/cost estimates for the project,” Murphy wrote to Bristow.
“It is also the end result which I gave to secure funding from the Tourist Development Council, the State of Florida and FEMA, among other potential investors, as they want to know how their investment dollars are to be used. Their investment funds are secured with the understanding that the city will build to the 75-100 year life expectancy as promised. The task of building to that level is not a ‘quick fix’ solution to an issue that the city has been faced with for the last 15 years, namely an aging pier in need of an overhaul,” Murphy wrote.
“Even though we have made steady progress since October, there still is room for improvement and I can assure you that both my staff and I have a sense of urgency in this matter. The pressure is on to complete this job sooner rather than later. Within the next few weeks there will be a public meeting scheduled to address both our progress to date in permitting as well as the construction/material options and preliminary expected time/costs. It is our intention that several key decisions needed to move forward with construction be addressed and voted upon by the commission at that meeting,” Murphy wrote.
Speaking by phone Friday afternoon, Murphy said he understands why some people question the entire pier being closed when most of the hurricane damage was to the structures and decking at the T-end.
As he did when the closure was announced, Murphy referenced the term “total destruction” as it appears in the lease that pier tenant Mario Schoenfelder holds with the city until December 2020.
“The term ‘total destruction’ shall mean damage to the leased premises which in the landlord’s sole opinion is not reasonably capable of being repaired within 120 days,” the lease says.
Murphy ordered the pier temporarily closed on Sept. 11. The closure became permanent on Sept. 20 when the city received a structural assessment and damage report from the Ayres Associates engineering firm.
“We recommend immediate closure of the facility until appropriate repairs are made to the pier and buildings. Until those repairs are complete, the public should not be permitted on the pier,” the report said.
Based on the belief that it would take more than 120 days to secure the permits and repair the pier, Murphy and the commission applied the ‘total destruction’ contractual designation to the pier’s continued closure.
“It’s a misnomer, but that’s the verbiage in the contract. The pier’s not gone. It’s still sitting there and people can see it. I think that’s what’s causing some of the furor. I went back to the commission and said it’s going to be closed for more than 120 days. We can either patch it up or we can build a pier with a 75-100-year life expectancy. The commission unanimously voted in favor of the 75-100-year option. The commission did not vote to patch it up,” Murphy said.