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Clearwater to decide fate of city's pier

Commissioners soon will have to decide if they want to repair Big Pier 60 or replace it. Either way, it's going to be expensive. Engineers, who received $10,050 to study the pier, predict that if the city repairs it, the weakened and deteriorating structure will last only 10 years.

For an extra $100,000, the city can replace the entire pier and have it last 30 years, the engineers said.

"It's going to be a financial decision," Commissioner Dick Fitzgerald said Wednesday after ordering the study from the city engineer's office. "It's not falling into the ocean right now, and it doesn't look like it's going to, so it's not an emergency. It looks like we have time to examine all the alternatives."

Replacing the pier would take about a year and cost $1.04-million, whereas pier repairs would be spread over five years at a cost of $908,000, the report said.

Big Pier 60 brings in about $330,000 each year from fishing, sightseeing and bait costs, and "the project could pay for itself in about four years," City Manager Ron Rabun said Wednesday.

"That's a pretty good turnaround," he said.

In May, the same Clearwater engineering firm _ Camp, Dresser & McKee _ noted that more extensive study needed to be made of the pier and that the city should not allow more than 30 people to congregate in one area of the pier.

However, the report states, regular use, such as walking or fishing, is safe and not hurting the pier's structure.

Because of that report, city commissioners last week decided not to allow spectators of the Kahlua Cup Sailing Regatta on the pier for free. Last year, the regatta drew about 200 spectators to the pier, and city officials did not want to risk that many on the pier again, Rabun said.

Employees who operate the pier have been apprised of the problems and told to keep an eye out for large groups, he said.

The pier, which is almost 40 years old, has structural problems with its deck, many of its pilings, walls and guard rails.

It has been repaired numerous times over the years, but engineers say that regardless of past repairs the underside of the deck continues to decay and the reinforcement bars are rusting.

Part of the deck has been weakened by years of water action and shifting sand.

Rabun said the city's staff will recommend that commissioners replace the pier and use the revenues from the 1-cent Pinellas sales tax increase to pay for it.

In this fiscal year, $250,000 of the "Penny for Pinellas" money is allocated to repairing the pier. For the years 1996 to 2000, $1.7-million in the sales tax money has been earmarked for repairing piers, Rabun said.

The city also could buy bonds to pay for the repairs and repay the bonds with the sales tax money later, he said.

"The pier is obviously worth continuing. It's a source of substantial income to the city," Fitzgerald said. "It's a decision the commission is going to have to make _ how we're going to fund it. When you start using the Penny for Pinellas money, it's a question of priorities, and all that needs to be examined."

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