Jax Beach Pier reopens to public after three years of repairs
It's been three years since the Jacksonville Beach Pier closed after being heavily damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Matthew.
After a brief ceremony Saturday morning that involved the mayors of Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach, local officials and the team responsible for the reconstruction project, the pier officially opened to the public as hundreds of residents braved the hot sun to enjoy the new walkway.
Among them: Mario Cortese, a 74-year-old Jacksonville Beach resident who has been coming to the Jacksonville pier and all of its iterations since 1982.
Cortese says the reopening has been long awaited by his group of friends who would fish off the end of pier two or three times each week.
"We've been looking forward to this, absolutely," he said. "I'm waiting for the tide to come out and tell me when I'm supposed to be here. I won't be here on no low tides in the morning."
For now, the pier is open to pedestrians only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day for free, with plans to open it to fishers with a three-rod limit in two weeks. The phased reopening is still a work in progress; plans for opening bathrooms, a bait shop, pricing and rules for the pier are still being worked out.
While the pier is on Jacksonville Beach, it's owned by the city of Jacksonville.
Still, Jacksonville Beach Mayor Christine Hoffman says the pier is an iconic fixture of the community, and they've taken great interest in its reconstruction.
According to Hoffman, the engineers involved understand that climate change and increasingly extreme weather means that for long-term sustainability, the pier couldn't just be built to withstand past storms, but future ones with more intensity.
"I think the most obvious change that people familiar with it are going to notice is that it goes up. So you walk out and the final third of the pier ramps up and it's 8 feet higher than the rest of the pier and than the end of the pier was previously," she said. "They also built large pilings. The pilings are bigger than before."
Pilings, the wooden structures beneath the pier, stabilize the walkway and provide ample space for water to flow through while also resisting the force of crashing, high waves.
The new pier is 1,285 feet long, about 10 feet shorter than its predecessor, but is studier with built-in shady benches for hot summer days and Florida's signature flash rainstorms.