After springtime delays due to both inclement weather and the COVID-19 pandemic, repairs at the Avon Fishing Pier are finally underway, in the hopes that the pier can reopen to visitors in June.
“We’re working on it now,” said pier operator, Joe Thompson. “The work was delayed this spring due to COVOID-19 in terms of getting the materials here, and then there were also delays due to the weather.”
“Some of the repairs that have to be done include piling replacement, and that type of work requires a lot of cooperation from Mother Nature,” explained Thompson. “[The work] is dependent on not just rain or sun, but also wind, and current, and swell. So you have to have good weather for several consecutive days, and April did not give us great weather.”
The Avon Fishing Pier suffered some damage from Hurricane Dorian in September of 2019, (specifically the roof of the pier house), but the majority of the damage was incurred from a wave of late fall nor’easters and storms that heavily battered the pier, causing a split towards the end of the structure.
The first half of the pier – or roughly 300 feet – had minimal damage, and this is the section that will be able to initially reopen sometime in the early summer.
“We’re hopeful that we can get the work done to the pier house, and at least the first half of the pier can reopen sometime in mid-June,” said Thompson. “We will continue construction on the other half of the pier while we’re open, and all work will likely continue until early to mid-July.”
Thompson noted that even though the pier may remain closed to the public for several more weeks, the expansive parking area and beach access next to the pier is still wide open for visitors.
“The beach will be open on the Avon Pier through all of this,” he said. “At times, [beachgoers] may be re-routed to a certain direction for their safety, but they will have access to the beach throughout the entire process… A portion of the parking lot is also open to folks, so there’s still ample parking, and we are hopeful that by the time we get to mid-to-late June, we will have materials out of parking lot, and can fully open to the public.”
There are a number of large tasks to tackle in order for the pier to reopen. The piling replacement is a big job, but the pier house itself needs a new roof, and foundation work under the pier house is also planned to make the structure more stable.
The National Park Service, which owns the Avon Pier, has been working with Thompson through every step of the repair process, which has helped speed up progress.
“The Park Service has been very willing to spend time, energy, and money to improve the Avon Pier as well,” said Thompson. “The sentiment has been shared, (both on our end and on the Park Service’s end), that we don’t want the Avon Pier to be the next [now-gone] Frisco Pier.”
Earlier in May, it was also announced that the Independence Day Fireworks celebration, (which launches off the end of the pier), was canceled for 2020 – a move that was echoed by multiple communities that traditionally host fireworks displays throughout the Outer Banks.
“Two things led to that decision,” said Thompson. “With COVID-19, there was uncertainty about what the park would permit, what the Fire Marshall would permit, and what it would look like in terms of social distancing and mass gatherings. There were a lot of unknowns in terms of COVID-19, and that definitively played into the decision making.”
“But the main decision factor is that we are fairly certain that we will still be under construction by early July, and physically may not be able to accommodate the fireworks. And by making that decision to cancel the fireworks early, we are better able to plan for 2021, and are already looking forward to the best show ever.”
The 2020 summer season has already presented multiple challenges for the Avon Pier, as well as businesses throughout the Outer Banks, with visitors restricted from the island until May 16.
But Thompson said the challenges have also presented an opportunity to focus on the work at hand, and to ensure that the present repairs will result in years of operation in the future.
“The way we’ve looked at this is that obviously COVID-19 has changed the landscape, and we know that 2020 will be an off-year, no matter what,” he said. “So we feel like this is a good time to spend some time, energy and money to work on the pier, the pier house, and the facilities, so we can improve them and make them more sustainable for years to come.”