Engineer says piers face potential risks from El Nino storms - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Engineer says piers face potential risks from El Nino storms

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Although the Central Coast is getting hit with mild rain right now, meteorologists continue to remind the public of severe rainfall right around the corner because of El Nino.  

Strong wind gusts, huge swells, and heavy rainfall are all expected during the winter and spring months because of El Nino. In the past, some Central and South Coast piers have not proven sturdy enough to withstand such storms.

"In the last El Nino event, in '82 and '83, they were pretty much at the end of their life cycles, and there were a lot of collapses up and down the coast," explains a San Luis Obispo County Professional Engineer, Bruce Elster.  "Now we are into another El Nino season, roughly 35 years later, and these facilities are towards the end of their service lives, and are showing signs of collapse or damage from storm events."

Elster walks across the Cayucos Pier, which he just recently rehabilitated, a two and a half year process. It reopened just a month ago.  

"As you see with the pier behind me here in Cayucos, (it) was reconstructed as a result of, it had been a long time since it had received maintenance," he says.

Avila Beach Pier has remained closed indefinitely since this summer, awaiting renovations.   

Other piers remain open, even though they have already shown signs of distress during recent high surf activity along the coast.

"Marine borers, like rust, they will never sleep and as a result, they diminish the structural capacity of the pier, so the pier strength is decreasing on an annual basis, so it takes less and less for a storm to push a pier over," says Elster.  

Although strong and structurally designed to hold up against most storms, Mother Nature is sometimes just too strong a force for the piers.

"They are designed to withstand design level earthquake forces, storm forces from wave and wind action, and they are designed to last as long as practically possible," says Elster.  "What we can expect, that if we do have a high surf season, is that you will see more frequent closures of the piers while we have storm events, and I think what you will see is having them rehabilitated after the season is over."

There are no renovations planned for any of the piers, but there are also no plans to close down any piers during the El Nino rainy season unless there are extremely high tides, large swells, and strong winds.

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