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Avila Beach Pier, weakened by wormlike critters, to remain closed indefinitely

Around 20 humpback whales were feeding in and around the Avila Beach and Cal Poly piers on Monday, June 15, 2015, drawing large crowds.
Around 20 humpback whales were feeding in and around the Avila Beach and Cal Poly piers on Monday, June 15, 2015, drawing large crowds. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

The Avila Beach Pier will remain closed indefinitely as the Port San Luis Harbor Commission determines over the next two to three months how safe the pier is to bear weight.

The commission on Tuesday authorized the completion of an underwater survey to assess the pier’s structural stability, which has been weakened by worm-like marine species that bore holes in the wood.

“These critters are like marine termites,” said Harbor Manager Steve McGrath. “We can’t do anything in regard to reopening the pier until we’ve completed the evaluation.”

The evaluation under way by Morro Bay-based Shoreline Engineering is expected to take 60 to 90 days and help the district to determine how to proceed with possible renovations.

The commission authorized spending about $54,000 in district funds to finish the survey.

A rough estimate of the cost to renovate the pier is $1.1 million, according to McGrath, who said he hopes to be able to secure funding from grants and community support.

The district, which owns the pier, has already reached out to agencies that could provide grants, though it’s waiting to gather more information on construction needs before moving forward with specific requests.

District staff members observed the pier swaying when crowds of people gathered on it recently to watch humpback whales that had come into the harbor to feed.

The pier has been renovated over the years, and it was most recently rebuilt after an El Niño storm in 1983.

The base of the pier was replaced in the early 2000s as part of Unocal’s cleanup of an oil spill that saturated the soil for years under the town until the seepage was discovered in 1989.

The pier has 110 rows of piles and 775 total piles.

McGrath said that a variety of options could help stabilize the pier.

Those include pulling and replacing the piles, installing a jacket around the section of damaged piles, and placing a steel tube “sleeve” over the piles.

A district staff report noted that the pier’s closure likely will impact Zippy’s at the Pier, a bait and tackle shop, and by extension, the district, which will lose rent.

“This business has been succeeding beyond the previous lessee and, according to the third-quarter rent report, business has grown 11 percent over the previous year,” McGrath wrote in a district staff report.

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