May 28, 2010

Frisco Pier unlikely to open this season


Owners Tod and Angie Gaskill had hoped to re-open part of the damaged Frisco Pier this season, but it seems unlikely now that will happen.

In April, there was a lot of activity around the area, as the owners and their family members and friends worked to clean up the pier house and stock it with fishing tackle, gift and souvenir items, and cold drinks and snacks.

The Frisco Pier, which was built in 1962, has been battered by hurricanes and northeasters over the years and especially since the Gaskills bought it shortly after Hurricane Isabel in 2003.  The continued assault by the ocean has taken its toll, and the end of the pier is buckled and in precarious shape.

The pier was not open last year at all, much to the disappointment of local and visiting anglers and Frisco businesses.

In April, the pier was barricaded about halfway down the length of the structure. The Gaskills think that part is safe enough to open for business to anglers and sightseers this season.

However, the Park Service doesn’t think that much of the pier is safe.

The Gaskills and the Park Service have had ongoing discussions about getting the pier re-opened.

Mike Murray, superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, said last month that the Park Service hired an engineering firm to study the structural integrity of the pier.

That study was completed last month, but Murray said yesterday that he had not received the final report.

He added that preliminary reports from the study indicate that the pier is safe only to the third set of pilings, which isn’t very far from the pier house door.

The preliminary information indicates that fasteners on the rest of the pilings are “delaminated and fatigued.”

Park officials also determined that the barricade that the Gaskills erected at the end of the part of the pier they wanted to open was did not meet their safety specifications.

“We have advised them of our safety concerns,” Murray said. “Now the owners need to make a business decision.”

The Gaskills take issue with the Park Service’s safety concerns, but for now their hands are tied.

“They just set too many restrictions,” Angie Gaskill said yesterday, adding that the Park Service wanted a chain link fence barrier.

“It was our intent to try to open part of it,” Angie Gaskill said yesterday.  “But we can open only a very small part of it.”

The area from the pier house out to the third piling isn’t even over the water most of the time, she said.

“We know it’s an important and popular attraction, and we want to see it opened,” Murray said.

That’s also the Gaskills goal.

“I want to see it cleaned up and functioning for the locals and the visitors,” Gaskill said last summer. “I grew up on the island in the seafood business….It’s a landmark here.”

Tod Gaskill said in an interview published on The Island Free Press last summer that he and his wife put $100,000 into the pier to repair the damage from Isabel, and had put another $50,000 into the structure each year since then.

He said his initial work to shore up the pier was complicated by the fact that he received a shipment of bad pilings, which should have lasted at least 20 years and have not lasted five.

He estimated last summer that at least 100 of the 130 pilings shoring up the pier need to be replaced.

The Gaskills, who own Top Dollar Construction in Frisco, said the estimate to fix the pier for the long-term is about $250,000.

Seashore officials have met with the Gaskills to talk about what funding might be available to help restore the pier. However, Murray said, finding funding sources from the Park Service or other public agencies is problematic since the pier is privately owned.

Tod Gaskill has been working in Galveston, Tex., for the past several years, repairing damage from Hurricane Ike.

But, he said last year that’s not the reason he has not addressed the problems with the pier.

The problem is money. Last year, he said he did not spend the $50,000 to $75,000 he estimated it would take to open the pier because of the economy.

Gaskill added that the pier has not been a big moneymaker.

“I didn’t buy this thing to make money,” he said.

He said they have made a modest profit, but “it’s not a big prospering business,” and it’s not made enough to cover the money he has had to put into repairing it.

The Park Service and the owners both want to see the Frisco Pier repaired and fully functional.

However, that is not going to happen this season.

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