OCEAN CITY — Ocean City’s iconic fishing pier, destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, will be rebuilt in time for the summer 2013 season.
By the time the clouds parted after the Oct. 29-30 storm, a large section of the battered pier had disappeared. Some pilings were left standing but have been removed so as not to imperil boats, according to Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan.
“Those pilings take a tremendous beating. It’s amazing how well they are built, what they can withstand. But this time, they just snapped under the pressure of it,” Meehan said.
Meehan said the most-asked question he heard during the storm was, “Is the pier OK?”
“People recognize it has tremendous importance to the town and the visitors who come to Ocean City,” he said.
Still, this icon of the resort doesn’t belong to the town, not really. For decades, Ocean City has offered a franchise agreement for pier control, for a price. The current franchise holder, Charles R. “Buddy” Jenkins, already has committed to rebuilding the pier, according to Meehan.
Jenkins did not return calls seeking comment.
The agreement gives the franchisee authority to maintain and operate the amusement and fishing pier. By its terms, the pier has to be rebuilt to 489 feet long and 20 feet wide.
The franchisee is allowed to extend the pier 140 feet if the shorelines moves seaward — part of the contract that existed long before the town embarked upon beach replenishment efforts — but it remains the franchisee’s responsibility to replace what was damaged.
Jenkins took over the pier in 1975. The current franchise agreement was adopted by the mayor and council in 1979, after an ice storm literally froze the ocean. Melting ice floes floated south and clobbered the pier, demolishing about 140 feet at the eastern end.
The 50-year agreement ends in 2029, and Jenkins must pay the town 150 percent of the assessed value of the pier each year — a figure not available Monday — as well as $2,000 to lease town-owned parking spots at the Inlet.
Meehan noted that maintaining that pier is a costly proposition, as will be the cost of making the repairs.
When the pier agreement was re-upped after the ice storm, the town agreed to leave it at its newly truncated length. The town may revoke the agreement if the franchisee for two years doesn’t maintain the pier in “good, safe and presentable condition” — not including damage or destruction deemed an act of God.
It won’t be easy to replace the pier, said Denny Sharp of Hi-Tide Marine Construction.
“You’d have to have sufficient equipment, and I’m not real sure anybody on this side of the Shore has that,” he said. “You’d have to have one big crane that could reach that far.”
As for the difficulty of working on the ocean shore, he commented: “You’re going to have the surf fighting you every day. We’re all set up to work in the back bays, and really, nobody with any brains would go out there,” he said.
But there is one other way to do it, he said: a method he called top-down construction, in which a contracting company would pile-drive new timbers under the old pier, working its way out one section at a time.
Sharp said replacement pilings would have to be about 60 feet long, and it could be a challenge to find barges or machines to handle timber that large.
There’s been a fishing pier on that site in since 1907, according to Sandy Hurley, Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum curator.
She said the original pier and the adjoining building held a dancing pavilion, skating rink, bowling alley, pool room, theater and refreshment booth. But by 1925, a fire had destroyed it all — plus three town blocks.
For a few years, there was no pier. Then, in 1929, a new group of investors rebuilt the pier, Hurley said. The years that followed were the heyday of the Pier Ballroom, a popular hot spot that hosted many famous performers, including Glenn Miller and his band.
Said Meehan of the Pier Ballroom: “That was a different time and a different era. The town was a lot smaller and there weren’t as many other entertainment options. That’s where I know the Beach Patrol used to hold their balls, and the police department.”
In the 1960s, the pier reportedly fell into disrepair under a new franchise holder, Hurley said. In 1975, Jenkins took over and made improvements.
“The prettiest view of Ocean City is out on the pier looking north in the summer during the day time when you see all the people on the beach. You see the island, the way it curves north,” Meehan said.