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Pier District to add to construction din in St. Pete's downtown

 
This architectural rendering shows what the new St. Petersburg Pier District will look like when it's set to be completed in 2019. [City of St. Petersburg]
This architectural rendering shows what the new St. Petersburg Pier District will look like when it's set to be completed in 2019. [City of St. Petersburg]
Published July 5, 2017

Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Get ready for the hubbub of yet more downtown construction.

Structural work starts this week on the new pier, beginning with replacement of the almost century-old pilings that supported its 1926 and 1973 predecessors.

Trucks carrying concrete and reinforcing steel will rumble from Interstate 275 to the project's Second Avenue NE epicenter. Barges will haul pilings from Tampa. And the real clamor will begin with the driving of 425 piles for the pier platform into Tampa Bay.

Work will go on from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Hours will be reduced on Saturday. Generally, there will be no work on Sundays.

PIER RESTAURANT: Randy Wayne White could bring his Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille to St. Pete.

Ken Duty, project director for Skanska USA Building, the construction manager, said cushion blocks will be put on the pile-driving hammers, and the piles, "to dampen" the blows.

The reason is two-fold: "It helps with the noise and also protects the top of the concrete piles," Duty said.

Along with noise, the over-water work brings environmental concerns and regulations governing such issues as water quality and the protection of seagrasses and manatees.

"The contractor should be careful in how they are maneuvering tugs and barges," said Walter Jaap, a marine ecologist who is retired from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and is a consultant with Lithophyte Research. "The most concern is the existing beds of seagrass that are there and should be watched."

Jaap said manatees could swim through the construction zone — and possibly turtles — though they are infrequent visitors to Tampa Bay.

"But they do occur and the manatee spotters would notify the contractor should they occur," he said.

The scientist also mentioned "the off chance" of the contractor having a fuel or chemical spill, an incident, he said, that would be "consequential, if it is large."

Colleen Naughton, a post-doctoral researcher in the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of South Florida, noted that the environmental footprint of the new pier is smaller than the previous one and includes construction of a breakwater and spur structure to reduce wave energy. That means, she said, that seagrass will have a better chance of thriving.

"During construction, you always have impacts on marine life and water quality," she said. "Although they are disturbing it now, eventually, when they are finished, there is the potential for more seagrass and marine life than there was before."

Eve Edelheit | Times

The old pier was torn down in 2016.

Eve Edelheit | Times

The old pier was torn down in 2016.

Duty said close attention will be paid to protecting the environment, a responsibility that will be shared by Skanska's subcontractors. For instance, he said, barges will not be parked directly over seagrass beds.

City architect Raul Quintana added that St. Petersburg "is required to provide a preconstruction baseline report on the condition of the seagrasses and monitor them no less than once a year during construction."

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Workers also will watch for "any manatees entering within 50 feet of the operation," Duty said. When that happens, "You shut down until they leave the area."

Other environmental precautions will include installing turbidity barriers around areas where pile work is being done to contain sand that's being disturbed. Also, said Duty, "if you have anything that comes off the equipment, you want it to stay inside" the barriers.

Dr. Christian Wells, an environmental anthropologist in the department of anthropology at USF, is concerned about potential long-term environmental effects of the project, which has evolved into what will be called the Pier District, a 26-acre expanse.

"My concern would be that redevelopment efforts are pretty good at understanding the initial impact of development, but not very good at understanding the cumulative impact," he said.

"We are talking about more people, more solid waste, more boat activity, more fishing and so on, and certainly there are regulations in place to monitor those impacts, but there is no anticipation of the scale of those activities going forward. It's that kind of uncertainty going forward that will be the source of environmental challenges."

Future residents will have to deal with them, Wells said, adding that officials can be proactive with education campaigns and monitoring programs.

An education center is planned for the Pier District and a pier education advisory team says its mission is to "define diverse educational experiences that will foster an understanding of our rich marine biodiversity and the importance of safeguarding ecosystems for visitors of all ages."

Meanwhile, Skanska's subcontractor anticipates driving six piles a day. The first 20 will be test piles, with an average depth of 65 to 75 feet. Geotechnical engineers will use the test piles — which will be permanent — for information about load-bearing capacity. The piles will also help determine the length of the additional 405 piles.

The former Pelican parking lot on the southern side of the pier will serve as the project's general staging area. A tentative route will have trucks exiting I-275 to I-375, heading east to Fourth Avenue N and then south on Fourth Street N and east to Second Avenue N, directly to the pier.

This phase of the project, piles, seawall and platform, will take 10 months, Quintana said. The entire Pier District, currently budgeted at $66 million, is set to be complete in early 2019.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.