Saturday, December 09, 2017

St. Augustine Record Columnist Margo C. Pope: Saving the pier, a goal for all?

We can get a nice new pier by pledging bed tax revenue to repay bonds. Yes, we can!

County Administrator Michael Wanchick won't discuss it publicly. 

I've been pointing this out since mid-2016.

Posted December 9, 2017 06:40 am
By Margo C. Pope Correspondent

POPE’S VIEW: Saving the pier, a goal for all?

I hadn’t spent much time in recent years on the St. Johns County Ocean and Beach Fishing Pier at St. Augustine Beach. But, I made a trip there shortly after seeing this headline in the St. Augustine Record on Oct. 6: “‘CRUMBLING CROWN JEWEL’: County plans to let pier die; city of St. Augustine Beach to look for ways to save it.”

A pier walk used to be a frequent Sunday afternoon diversion and then a stop at a beach restaurant. Then the times between those walks got longer and longer. Our Sunday afternoons fell victim to work on the house or, on the job. For four months after Hurricane Matthew, when we were living at Crescent Beach, I’d pass Pier Park but was always rushing somewhere else. We’d walk part of Crescent Beach instead.

The talk of the future of the pier, etc., between St. Johns County and St. Augustine Beach governments, and the costs of operation and management, is the reality today. The beach is a popular place for tourists and locals but even their property taxes and the tourist-development-tax, otherwise known as the bed tax, don’t cover what all county government requires. Piers don’t last forever. A replacement is $10 million or more. I don’t envy the two governments involved.

The center of St. Augustine Beach’s public space is the Pier. Where else can you look out to the horizon, breathe the healthy salt air, watch the churning Atlantic, see surfers, surf fishing people, beach walkers with and without dog, and others like yourself, just sightseeing?

My family’s outings back in the day were beach driven. Then, the Fourth of July was “officially” celebrated all day long at the center of the community, the pier and its parking lot.

It was a big day for my family and many of our friends who were city folks. My Dad would pack the beach gear – blankets, folding chairs, each balls and rafts, ice chest filled with sodas, and a separate cooler filled with food burrowed in more ice so they would not spoil.

Jammed packed in our big Oldsmobile convertible, we would head from downtown, top down, singing whatever songs my parents thought of. World War II was still fresh in their lives, Daddy in the Air Force, and Mama having been in the South Pacific with the American Red Cross during the war. We knew all the Armed Services songs. If my Grandmother and Grandfather Cox from Connecticut were visiting, there would be more patriotic songs from their first war, World War I, he in the Army overseas and she, a Yeomanette, stateside.

We sometimes shared beach days with the Slater family who lived at the Beach year round. My brother and I thought it was pretty cool to have the beach as your playground. When we got together, all the kids would head to the pier and “stroll” the pier. It always surprised me that fishermen-and-women would catch anything considering the ocean was 12-14 feet below, a long way down for the fishing line to connect with a fish. Some fisher-people would have buckets they would attach to another line to “catch” the fish as it got closer to journey’s end.

As a teenager, my husband recalls catching a lot of whiting and an occasional drum that “hung around” the pilings, too. His parents always took Sunday drives to the beach and walked the pier, too.

It’s hard now to think the pier in past tense.

It’s easy enough to say, “Save the Pier.” But, we are not County Administrator Michael Wanchick, Beach City Manager Max Royle, County Commission Chair Henry Dean and Beach Mayor Rich O’Brien trying to work out a possible solution for their boards to consider. A public-private partnership may be a way. There will be giving and taking, of course, but if this wonderful place gets to keep being wonderful, isn’t that what we want?

Margo C. Pope was associated with The St. Augustine Record for 24 of her 42 years with Morris Publishing Group. She retired in 2012 as The Record’s editorial page editor.

No comments: