County commissioners tour pier construction site

County commissioners tour pier construction site
Manatee County Commissioners Carol Whitmore, Steve Jonsson and Betsy Benac at the construction site on Friday. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

ANNA MARIA – Manatee County Commissioners Betsy Benac, Steve Jonsson and Carol Whitmore took a boat tour of the Anna Maria City Pier construction site Friday afternoon.

Using tourist tax and surplus beach concession revenues, the county is contributing more than $1.8 million in county commission-approved funds for the $4.8 million pier replacement project.

“I invited them because they are funding a good portion of this project and I wanted them to be in the know as to what’s going on with the pier construction effort,” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said before the commissioners arrived at city hall.

Murphy and Public Works Manager Dean Jones then provided the commissioners with a brief overview of the pier project. Seventy spun concrete pilings, 14 inches in diameter, have already been driven. Those pilings will support the T-end decking, restaurant, bait shop and restrooms – and all but five had been trimmed to their final height as of Friday afternoon.

County commissioners tour pier construction site
From left, Mayor Dan Murphy and Public Works Manager Dean Jones provided commissioners Whitmore, Benac and Jonsson with a project update. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Murphy said the next 15 pilings driven will support the section of pier walkway that will connect to the T-end platform and provide limited space for boats to dock along the southeast side of the pier.

The final 126 walkway pilings will be driven beginning near the shore and working outward. The piling diagram Murphy referenced listed April 26 as the anticipated pile driving completion date.

Concrete support platforms and wooden support bents will be placed atop the pilings and topped with Ipe wood planking.

Murphy also explained the anticipated, but not finalized, $500,000 contribution that pier tenant Mario Schoenfelder has been asked to make toward the interior buildout of the city-owned pier buildings that will be handled as a separate bidding and construction phase. The new pier is expected to open to the public by the end of 2019.

Boat tour

Departing from the dock at the nearby Historical Park, the commissioners rode aboard the i+iconSoutheast work boat piloted by Project Engineer Kurt Johnson, with Project Director Paul Johnson serving as tour guide.

The commissioners got a close look at the pilings already driven approximately 30 feet into the ground using jet pumps and a diesel hammer. Kurt Johnson said the water at the T-end of the pier was about 10 feet deep.

County commissioners tour pier construction site
These are among the 70 pilings that will support the restaurant, bait shop and restrooms at the pier’s T-end. – Joe Hendricks | Sun

Before returning to shore, the commissioners shared their comments.

“I’m impressed. They’ve got a good team and the city did a good job so far. It looks great,” Whitmore said.

“I think it’s great to finally see it coming to fruition. I look forward to seeing the finished product,” Benac said.

“It’s going to be great for Anna Maria and Manatee County when it’s finished,” Jonsson said. “We all kind of grew up around here coming out to the pier with our kids, and now our grandkids, to show them the beauty of Anna Maria, the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay.”

Whitmore said the pier has historically been Manatee County’s number one tourist attraction and images of the pier are featured in the marketing materials the county distributes worldwide.

“It’s great that it’s being built to all the new design standards. We’re having more storms, so it’s great to have this level of improvement that will hopefully withstand those storms,” Benac said.

The pier funding is a collective effort involving the county, the city, the state Legislature and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“It’s a partnership. It couldn’t all be built by one entity, but if we all chip in we can get it done,” Benac said.

“It’s a great tourist attraction. We collect that TDC money (the county’s 5 percent tourist tax) from everybody out here and it’s a way of giving it back,” Jonsson said of the county’s contributions.

“It’s part of the history of the county and Anna Maria Island. This is where the original visitors to Anna Maria Island used to arrive on a steamship,” Whitmore said of the original pier built in 1911 and 1912.