New supports help Cayucos pier withstand battering storm waves

ktanner@thetribunenews.comMarch 6, 2014 

As big waves smashed against the aging Cayucos pier early on March 1, it seemed as if the whole town was holding its breath, hoping that recent work to stabilize the iconic structure would prevent its collapse.

Other piers to the south were damaged, including the Avila Pier, but the much-loved Cayucos span held, thanks to about $230,000 worth of above-the-deck reinforcing completed only about six weeks before, early and under budget.

“There must have been hundreds of people, at one time or another that morning, looking at the surf, the beach wall and the pier,” said Greg Bettencourt, a member of a Pier Project committee that has pushed for permanent repairs to the pier and has fund-raised nearly $500,000 to be used on the pier.

“And it made it!” he said. “It’s grand.”

The success was a combination of good work, good timing, a great team, a long stretch of earlier good weather and good luck, according to Machelle Vieux, general services deputy director for the county.

“It’s pretty amazing that the oldest, ricketiest pier on the Central Coast” came through the battering waves intact, Vieux said.

“It’s all because of the interim work, the steel and timbers on the deck to stabilize it.”

Some support posts or piers are missing and others are in a substantially unstable condition. She and others give credit for the stabilization’s success to design engineer Bruce Elster of Shoreline Engineering, Associated Pacific Constructors (both from Morro Bay), project management firm T. Simons Co., and Rich Kopecky, the county’s project coordinator.

Of course, Mother Nature gets some credit, too, because winter storms held off until the project was complete.

Paul Gillen of Associated Pacific said the project was difficult because those firms “are normally in reconstruction mode. We were trying to figure out how to stabilize a structure that’s in the process of failing” to keep it from doing so until it can be fully repaired. And to do so without doing any work below the water line, which wasn’t included in the job’s permits.

He said the “beams provided the structural integrity for the under-the-deck support that was pretty much nonexistent. Think of a building with beams that hold it up, and cross beams that keep it from falling over. We had to flip it over, do that on top, and bolt the old deck to the new structure … because waves come from underneath, that meant our structure held it together … at one time, that structure might have seemed excessive, but it certainly wasn’t for the type of forces Mother Nature threw at it (on March 1).”

While the state owns the pier, the county is responsible for maintenance because of a cooperative contract between the two governmental entities. Long-deferred maintenance and missing pilings have resulted in a partial closure that began in early July.

The repairs included a series of steel braces, placed longitudinally on top of the pier and supported by wooden cross bracing, also atop the pier deck. The bracing provides support side to side and forward and back from the tidal zone to the seaward end of the pier.

The pier was built in 1872 by Capt. James Cass, according to the Cayucos Pier Project website www.savecayucospier.org, and rebuilt and lengthened in 1876.

The Pier Project is a grass-roots campaign to raise $100,000 for the county to use as matching funds for grants, plus additional money to be held in a community-controlled fund for future improvements and upkeep.

The public is to have additional input into those plans in April or May, Bettencourt said, as committee members take the discussion to the Cayucos Advisory Council meeting. The full restoration job will require replacing upwards of 50 or more pilings.

The project would include driving piles into the ocean floor, adding permanent connections between the pilings, cross-bracing under the pier, T-straps and angled batter pilings that splay out from the bottom of the pier’s deck into the ocean floor.

Permit applications are in, or due to be soon, said Vieux. The county is seeking grants and other funding.

“We’ll probably have awarded a contract for the work by sometime early this summer,” she said, a contract that will go on standby until the permits and funding are accomplished.

If the fates continue to favor the pier, the project could be complete before the start of the next storm season, depending, of course, on when that starts in the winter of 2014-2015.

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