An in-depth look into what causes closures and prompts repairs on local piers

Posted at 11:44 AM, Jun 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-28 14:44:30-04

They give you a chance to be in the ocean without getting wet, and the piers that extend off the coastline of San Luis Obispo County take the brunt of large swells and storms.

"Piers are in a coastal environment, piers move, and rot," Pismo Beach City Manager Jim Lewis said.

The San Simeon Pier is one of those piers to most recently be impacted by storm conditions. After KSBY filed a public records request in April of this year, it was uncovered that the pier was previously damaged by winter storms in 2017 and 2018. Of the 250, piles supporting the pier, 10 were severely damaged.

Most recently, concern over the pier's structure remains. Jeff Walters, a north coast resident, frequents the San Simeon Pier and noticed what appeared to be a piling bobbing in the water several feet from the pier. Following Walters' concern, KSBY addressed the issue with California State Parks, which ultimately led to a partial closure of the pier at the beginning of the month that remains in place today. California State Parks Superintendent Dan Falat told KSBY that consultants and engineers have since performed an assessment.

About 22 miles south and nearly five years prior, the Cayucos Pier was also facing safety concerns.

"In July of 2013, we realized that the stability of the pier wasn't very good," San Luis Obispo County Parks Director Nick Franco, said."It had lost a number of pilings and it was actually swaying in large storms."

Franco says a series of storms took out several pilings, which made the pier unsafe and prompted a nearly two-year closure. $3.7 million, the pier reopened in October 2015. However, these structures that consistently face saltwater corrosion and battering waves are stronger than you think.

"The pilings that are in there are driven hopefully into bedrock, so they try to find bedrock below the ocean floor and there's enough of them that provides the structural integrity, but when they lose some of them, it doesn't undermine the entire structure," Franco said. "It's just when you get to a critical mass of having lost enough of them."

The Pismo Beach Pier underwent a 22-month renovation from 2017 to 2018 after pilings were consistently becoming detached and repairs were becoming too consistent.

"We realized we couldn't have the pier open during major storms, major swells, and major incidents," Pismo Beach City Manager Jim Lewis, said. "Having it closed just wasn't acceptable for us so the city council decided to move forward with a brand new pier."

While most central coast piers have been closed due to impacts from weather-related events, the Avila Pier was previously closed due to impacts from whale watching.

"In June of 2015 there were a lot of whales in the harbor here and there were a lot of people on the pier," Port San Luis Harbor District Manager Andrea Lueker said. "But it seemed at that point the Avila Pier was moving more than it should so the harbor district decided to close the pier at that point."

Piers are meant to sway, but Lueker said the swaying that was taking place was excessive. As a result, the pier closed for nearly three years while the Harbor District conducted a load capacity study.

"The district did some repairs and opened the pier to bent 58 which is basically half of the pier, but there are some repairs that need to happen in order for the pier to be completely opened," Lueker said.

It's a project that could cap out at more than $4 million, and once it's complete, the entire pier will open again.

"We'd like to be able to start those repairs sooner rather than later and that will likely happen as soon as we get that permit through coastal which is slated for later this summer," Lueker said.

All of these piers aren't meant to last forever, which is why they undergo repairs and closures, but they are routinely assessed, especially after storms.

As for the San Simeon Pier, at this time, there are no plans to close the pier in its entirety, according to California State Parks Superintendent Dan Falat. However, the portion of the pier that is fenced off will remain closed while State Parks and engineers work to address the structural issues of the pier.