Three months after heavy surf crippled the Ventura Pier, officials plan to reopen the landmark wharf to fishermen, tourists and city residents this weekend.
Most of the major reconstruction work on the historic pier was completed late last week, but park officials plan to wait until Saturday to reopen the structure to foot traffic so park maintenance crews can replace benches and signs that were removed during the rebuilding.
Engineers have been working full time since December to replace scores of wood pilings that snapped or were badly loosened under pressure from unusually strong swells and waves as high as 15 feet.
The early winter storms knocked out more than a dozen supports, forcing the closure of the wharf Dec. 19. Another storm two weeks later destroyed those repairs and prompted the three-month restoration.
"It's gone real well," park manager Bill Byerts said Monday. "Obviously, it's been a while and there was a lot to do."
About 90 of the 600 telephone pole-sized piles had to be replaced or strengthened--more than half of those in the middle of the nearly 1,958-foot-long pier, which is believed to be the longest wooden one of its kind.
Other supports were fitted with plastic wraps between the ocean floor and just above sea level to prevent wood-eating bugs from gnawing away at them, Byerts said.
"That was the bulk of the restoration," he said. "But there were also some braces that had to be reinforced and some decking that had to be replaced."
Byerts said the city would apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement of the $450,000 reconstruction cost under President Clinton's disaster declaration after the January flood.
"But right now, the city is fronting all of the money," he said.
Under cloudless skies Monday, beach-goers welcomed news of the upcoming opening.
"We used to walk on the pier to the very end all the time," said Frances Voris, sitting on a bench at the pier entrance with her husband, Walter. "We've missed it tremendously. We used to come three times a week."
Ventura construction worker Allen Bovitz said he never realized how much he valued the old wharf.
"Everybody misses it a lot," Bovitz said. "It's surprising how much you miss something when you don't have it."
Some residents enjoyed an early "opening" this past weekend when pranksters removed the chain-link fence preventing access to the pier. By midmorning last Saturday, dozens of fishermen, strollers and passers-by were walking along the pier.
Within hours, however, Ventura police were called to the scene to shoo away the visitors and reclose the pier to foot traffic.
Tons of driftwood, tree trunks and other debris still line the beaches on both sides of the 122-year-old pier. Nonetheless, Councilman Gregory L. Carson said that reopening the wharf would attract more visitors and tourist dollars to the city.
"It's a cornerstone of bringing the ocean, the beach and the downtown together," Carson said. "It's the one thing that travelers can see when they come to the city."
Despite the repair expense, city officials said another fierce storm could damage the structure.
"It's tough to say (how long it will last)," said City Engineer Rick Raives, who supervised the restoration. "If we have another winter like we did, we're going to have more damage. That's safe to say."