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    Days numbered for popular fishing spot

    Construction of a new causeway bridge in May will force the pier's demolition, but city officials hope to rebuild it.

    [Times photo: Jim Damaske]
    People fish off the downtown pier next to the Memorial Causeway drawbridge Monday evening. The pier will be razed in May, but during new bridge construction, anglers can use other city fishing piers.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 20, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- Robert Taylor plucked a small fiddler crab from a plastic foam cup Tuesday afternoon and baited his hook. Then he dangled his line in the water at the end of the city fishing pier at the edge of downtown's waterfront bluff.

    "I'm fishing for sheepshead," said Taylor, 51. "You can see them down there, swimming around the piers."

    Soon, however, folks like Taylor won't be able to fish here anymore.

    In May, crews building a new Memorial Causeway bridge across Clearwater Harbor will have to demolish the fishing pier to make way for the foundation of the new bridge, said Gary Johnson, the city administrator who is in charge of overseeing the $69-million construction project.

    "The contractor will do their best to keep that (pier) open until May 1," said Johnson, who has fished there himself. "Although there's a possibility that if the contractor runs into some difficulties, he may have to move over there sooner than expected."

    Johnson said the city plans to post signs at the downtown fishing pier and notices at local bait shops to tell people about the closure. The signs will point out that the city has built new, free fishing piers off its marina at the entrance to Clearwater Beach, as well as on the south side of Clearwater Pass, near the city's Community Sailing Center, Johnson said.

    "It's unfortunate that it will be closing soon to facilitate the construction of the bridge, but we do have alternative sites for people to fish," Johnson said. "They're both good fishing spots. I've used them both myself."

    When the new bridge is completed in 2004, it's still a bit unclear how the downtown fishing pier will be rebuilt, city officials say.

    City Engineer Mike Quillen said that the city will build a pier in the area as it promised to do when it convinced the Florida Department of Transportation to undertake the bridge project with city, county, state and federal funding.

    One option would be to use the pilings from the drawbridge that now spans the harbor to create a new pier, Quillen said. If this occurs, the new pier would be similar to the existing one, which was created from the remains of an old bridge that once spanned Clearwater Harbor.

    But there is no money in the city's budget for such work because the cost of building the bridge itself increased over the past few years.

    Another option would be to request that city staff build a smaller, simpler downtown fishing pier, similar to the piers that were added at Clearwater Pass, Quillen said. The city could probably afford a project like that from funds that are budgeted for the construction of docks and seawalls, Quillen said.

    Taylor said he is disappointed the city will be closing the downtown pier. He hopes the city creates a nice new pier, because the existing one is such a popular spot. On some days, there are several dozen people with their lines in the water here, he said. And perhaps more importantly, Taylor said, "I usually always catch something."

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