February 20, 2008

New Pier Planned for Fort Fisher

North Carolina Aquariums Launch Pier Efforts

In order to preserve a coastal tradition that weather and economics have nearly erased from the shoreline, the N.C. Aquariums want to build and run three storm-resistant ocean fishing piers – one near each of the state’s aquariums at Fort Fisher, Pine Knoll Shores and Roanoke Island.

"We are losing piers along our coast, and more are likely to disappear,” said Bill Laxton, chief deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “Our goal is to build three new concrete piers that will withstand coastal storms and provide future generations with invaluable ocean access."

Aquarium staff views the proposed educational piers as another avenue to advance the Aquariums’ mission of inspiring appreciation and conservation of North Carolina’s aquatic environments.

Piers provide a vantage of the surf zone to visitors who come just to stroll along the deck. In addition, the Aquariums’ proposed pier complexes will facilitate beach access and other recreational activities.

“The interest in recreational fishing presents a wonderful opportunity to teach conservation,” said Division Director David Griffin. “Getting people out into their natural surroundings is the most effective form of environmental education.”

The Aquariums have asked for $4 million from the state’s Waterfront Access and Marine Industry Fund (WAMI) toward the development of the piers. The General Assembly included the WAMI program in the 2007 state budget for projects that improve public and commercial waterfront access. The move came after a committee appointed by the legislature took a broad look at diminishing waterfront accessibility of all types.

Visitors and tourism-oriented businesses have mourned the rapid vanishing of fishing piers in the last decade. A succession of hurricanes in the late 1990s wiped out many of these gathering spots, favored by vacationers and locals alike. Soaring real estate values spelled the demise of others.

Griffin noted that fishing piers have played an important role in the culture and history of the coast, as well as in the tourism-driven economy. The price of oceanfront real estate makes the prospect of private investment in new piers unlikely.

“The North Carolina Aquariums are uniquely positioned to address this loss,” he said. “We already have well-established programs and facilities within an easy drive of all the major tourist beaches.”

The proposed piers will extend 1,000 feet into the Atlantic, with concrete pilings to withstand crashing waves and high winds, and timber decks to reflect tradition. The design will employ “green” building principles and stormwater treatment methods. The facilities also will accommodate people with disabilities.

Anglers and vacationers won’t be the only users. The proposed complexes include pier houses, exhibits, classrooms, meeting and event rooms, accommodations for other water-based activities, and staging areas for data collection and research. The sites also will provide bathhouses, parking and access for beachgoers. Among the many programs planned will be fishing conservation workshops, beach walks, sleepovers, science camps, school programs, kayak excursions and surfing classes.

“With the piers, we’ll be able to bring new programs to more people,” Griffin said.

The Aquariums already have two of the projects underway. Construction is set to begin in mid-2008 on a concrete pier to replace Jennette’s Pier at Nag’s Head, in conjunction with the Aquarium on Roanoke Island. The first fishing pier on the site was built in 1939. The N.C. Aquarium Society, the Aquariums’ member-based support group, acquired the existing pier in 2003, and turned it over to the state in October. The new pier is expected to open in 2010.

The Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores plans to begin design and development on its pier next summer. The Aquarium is partnering with the town of Emerald Isle to build the project at the Eastern Ocean Regional Access . The 4.1-acre site was home to the Emerald Isle Pier until it was torn down after damage from two 1996 hurricanes. The site, eight miles from the Aquarium, stretches across Bogue Banks at about its midpoint. The Aquarium plans a fishing dock, kayak launch area and other amenities on the sound side section of the property in addition to the ocean pier and facilities.

“We are excited about this partnership with the North Carolina Aquariums,” said Emerald Isle Mayor Art Schools. “We believe the project will provide tremendous benefits for North Carolinians for generations to come.”

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is considering various sites for its proposed pier project.

Each pier is estimated to cost about $12 million. The Aquariums plan to pay for the projects with money from Aquarium admission receipts, pier user fees, grants, contributions from other government agencies and donations from the Aquarium Society.

Tourism industry leaders welcome the efforts to perpetuate the familiar and family-friendly coastal icons. “The pier and sound side access here on the Crystal Coast will be a welcome addition to the area,” said Carol Lohr, executive director of the Crystal Coast Tourism Authority in Carteret County, home to the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. “The expanded programs from the Aquarium, and the fact that both will be open to the public, will be another eco-friendly area the tourism authority can market and promote.”

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