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Landmark Pier Readies for Latest Renovation Project

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Starting next month, the city’s historic wooden pier will get an overhaul, to replace a section destroyed more than three years ago by giant waves and to bolster the local landmark against future storms.

The California Coastal Commission last week approved the construction of an 80-foot octagonal extension of the Ventura Pier.

“Years ago, the pier used to be really a gathering place with the hustle and bustle of activity,” Ventura Mayor Jim Friedman said. “We hope that the pier in its redesign will attract more tourism and we can hold a greater array of events there to make the pier more active and vibrant.”

In addition to the extension, the city will raise the pier by 4 feet and reinforce 200 feet of the pier’s remaining 1,535 feet by replacing weakened timber piles with steel piles.

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City Engineer Rick Raives said the new steel support piles will be 10 times stronger than the wood ones and should keep the pier from washing away during severe weather.

“It’s going to be sturdier than it’s ever been,” Raives said. “There may be storms so big that they’ll knock down the deck and railing but leave the steel piles sticking up.”

In December 1995, powerful waves pounded against the pier, washing away 423 feet from the end and causing $2.5 million in damage. In order to make the pier safe enough to reopen, the city first replaced the railing where the pier broke off.

Two years later, city engineers added steel bracing, which got the pier through last winter’s El Nino storms without major damage.

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Then city officials debated whether to restore the pier to its previous 1,958 feet or strengthen the existing pier and redesign the end farthest from the beach. In April 1998, the City Council voted to stabilize the structure and make the end more of a gathering place.

Officials from the city and Coastal Commission say the new design--an 80-by-70-foot octagon--does both. In the middle of the octagon will be a section--surrounded by railing--that is open to the ocean.

“The whole premise of the design is to develop a more stable pier that, hopefully, will be able to survive storms that have destroyed it several times since original construction,” said Melanie Hale, a Coastal Commission analyst.

“But it also allows people the experience of having a good view, being close to the water and fishing.”

Oxnard resident Bruce Darly and his son, David, 2, spent a recent afternoon fishing off the pier. Darly said he enjoys visiting the pier at San Buenaventura Beach and looks forward to the new extension.

“It’s good public relations for the city to add to the pier,” Darly said. “It’ll be even more of an attraction for locals and tourists.”

On the same afternoon, several other fishermen cast their lines over the railing, a couple strolled down the pier holding hands and a man looked through binoculars at birds overhead.

The pier, originally built in 1872, was once the longest wooden pier in California. Throughout its history it has been damaged by storms numerous times. In 1907, powerful swells destroyed 275 feet, and in 1986, storm damage closed the pier for more than a year.

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Construction on the new section, scheduled to start in March, is expected to last through December. The project, funded by state grants and the city’s insurance settlement, will cost $2.3 million.

During construction, the last 300 or 400 feet will be closed intermittently. But public access to the base of the pier, as well as to its restrooms and snack and bait shop, will not be disrupted.

Charnell Foulke, manager of Eric Ericsson’s restaurant on the pier, said she supports the project but is concerned about the effect construction will have on business.

“People think that because the pier is closed, that the restaurant is closed, too,” Foulke said. “So we’ll have to tell people that we’re open.”

The Coastal Commission was concerned about how the project would affect recreational opportunities and marine resources around the pier, Hale said, but concluded that it would not present a problem.

“As far as the commission is concerned and the public is concerned, this project can go forward,” Hale said.


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