Owner: Open more of pier

Published July 5, 2006

REDINGTON SHORES - Fishing enthusiasts are back at the Redington Long Pier but are confined to a 200-foot section just west of the pier's bait house.

Pier owner Tony Antonious said Monday he plans to ask Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Brandt C. Downey III to revise his order to allow more of the pier to be opened to the public.

The court order issued Friday allows up to 500 feet of the pier to be open to the public, but that measurement starts at the beach end of the pier which extends several hundred feet before reaching the pier's bait house and the actual area used for fishing.

"We want to get clarification from the judge," Antonious said. "We need to modify the areas where people can fish so that we can do the repairs."

Redington Shores and Pinellas County are unlikely to agree to any change to the court order, since they had fought to have the pier closed to the public.

"We still feel the pier is unsafe," Redington Shores Building Official Steve Andrews says. "We would rather the pier was closed, but the judge has spoken."

Concerns over the structural safety of the nearly 50-year-old pier following Tropical Storm Alberto last month led the town and the county to order the pier closed. At issue was whether pilings and cross-bracings that washed onto the beach were pier supports.

When Antonious subsequently reopened the pier, declaring a marine engineer had certified it as safe, an emergency court injunction, sought by the town and county, again closed the tourist attraction to the public.

Friday, Judge Downey canceled the injunction, but allowed only half of the 1,021-foot pier to be reopened. Downey also limited to 330 the number of people who can be on the pier at any one time.

At issue are nine aging pilings that a marine engineer says are up to 95 percent deteriorated.

The engineer's report, ordered by the town and county and commissioned by Antonious, also listed other items - from deck boards to rusted hardware - that also need repair or replacement.

A contractor is already making some of those repairs, Antonious says. He says he will soon apply for a county permit to replace the defective pilings. He expects that work to begin in August.

Meanwhile, Andrews is "monitoring" public use of the pier to ensure the court order is not violated.

Monday about a dozen people were fishing on the pier. Most had not heard about the controversy over the pier's safety.

Courtney Chen of Largo fishes regularly on the pier and believes the $10 fee to fish on the pier should be reduced. "If we can only fish on half the pier, it should be half price," he said.

Some decided not to use the pier at all when told they could not use the entire pier.

But neither the price nor concerns over safety bothered 14-year-old Dylan Foot who fished right next to the barrier blocking off the end of the pier.

"Even if the pier falls out from under me, I'll keep on fishing," Dylan said.