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Old Skyway fishing pier to get new life as artificial reef

Alana Salgado, 10, left, of Tampa and her sister, Madison, 12, fish Wednesday on the pier that will stay open on the Skyway’s north side. The pier across from them is unsafe and will be demolished.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Alana Salgado, 10, left, of Tampa and her sister, Madison, 12, fish Wednesday on the pier that will stay open on the Skyway’s north side. The pier across from them is unsafe and will be demolished.

ST. PETERSBURG — Construction crews begin this month tearing down the oldest spans of the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier, which until three years ago was a popular spot for anglers out for a day of sun and fun.

The original 1954 spans were deemed structurally unsound, so the public has not been allowed to use them since 2008.

But just because that part of the fishing pier is being demolished doesn't mean anglers won't ever get to use them again. Instead, those spans — 27 on the north end, 48 on the south — will become a place to find a lot of fish.

Underwater, that is.

None of the concrete debris will be dumped into Tampa Bay. Instead, it will be loaded onto barges and taken out into the Gulf of Mexico, said Aubrey Clarke, a spokeswoman for the Skyway project.

"It will be taken out to become part of various reef locations," she explained.

Clarke said she could not say at this point which reefs would get the concrete from the old Skyway. However, Pinellas County operates 10 artificial reef sites, from 3 to 21 miles offshore in the gulf.

The reefs are made of Army tanks, old barges, World War II landing craft, even a tugboat. One, off St. Pete Beach, contains parts of the old Corey Causeway.

To Capt. Tony Allen of Electric Blue Fishing Charters, adding the old Skyway concrete to those reefs is "a very good idea. Juvenile fish are going to congregate around it, and then larger predators are going to come looking for the smaller fish."

The old Skyway bridge's operator boasts that it's the longest fishing pier in the world, a place where "you can pack your picnic, umbrella, chairs and fishing equipment and drive up to your fishing spot. It's like tailgating and fishing at the same time."

Anglers catch tarpon, Spanish mackerel, cobia, grouper and kingfish from the old spans, and because it's open 24 hours, they can be out there day or night.

While the demolition work goes on, anglers can continue fishing off the Skyway spans that were built in 1970, which run parallel to the old ones. However, state officials are warning boaters to keep clear of the old piers by 100 feet.

The two bait shops on the north and south piers also will remain open. The project is expected to cost about $2.2 million.

Times staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected]

Old Skyway fishing pier to get new life as artificial reef 07/06/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 7, 2011 6:38am]
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