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Judge reopens Redington Long Pier

Part of the pier was closed last year over concerns it was unsafe after it was damaged in a tropical storm.

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA, Times Correspondent
Published October 21, 2007

Lighter boards show where repairs were made shortly after storm damage in 2006. Part of the pier was later closed, but now it is open.
[Cherie Diez | Times]
After more than a year of legal disputes, the entire Redington Long Pier reopened to the public this week.

The pier was partially closed last year under a court order sought by the town of Redington Shores and Pinellas County.

At issue was whether parts of the pier, apparently damaged by Tropical Storm Alberto in 2006, were safe for the public.

That court injunction was finally lifted Tuesday by Judge W. Douglas Baird, who determined that the pier was structurally sound.

Although the town did not dispute the ruling, there is "still substantial ongoing maintenance work that probably needs to be performed at the pier," said Town Attorney James Denhardt.

He said that "unless there are further structural problems," the legal battle with pier owner Tony Antonious is over.

Redington Shores Building Official Steve Andrews said an electrical permit has been issued and that other maintenance repairs are under way.

"The structural engineer said the pier is safe," Andrews said.

The legal battle began more than a year ago when the 50-year-old fishing pier was ordered closed by Andrews after pilings and cross-bracings that appeared to support the pier were washed ashore by Tropical Storm Alberto.

The county's Water and Navigation Control Authority then declared the pier structure "dilapidated" and ordered its closure pending safety certification by a structural engineer.

Antonious hired an engineer and marine divers to check the pier pilings and decking and began recommended repairs.

The court battle was triggered when Antonious declared that "90 percent" of the required repairs were complete and reopened the pier to the public.

At the urging of town and county officials, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Brandt C. Downey III closed almost half the 1,021-foot landmark fishing pier and restricted the number of people who could be on it at one time.

During the past year, Antonious has made a series of repairs to the pier's surface structure, including installation of 23 new wood pilings, 17 new piling caps, replacement of 17 sets of cross bracing, and replacement of all bolts on the original pier.

While repairs were being made, Antonious sought, and then withdrew, a request to change the pier property's zoning and land use designation to allow construction of a seven-story condo-hotel at the base of the pier.

That plan ran into trouble, however, over the town's zoning and land use regulations. The property is designated for use as open outdoor recreation/public open space, a designation that cannot be changed without the approval of the town and the state's Department of Community Affairs.

Several times over the past year, Antonious accused the town of delaying tactics and tried to get the court to allow the pier to reopen. This week, he was finally successful.

When Baird, who took over the case after Downey's retirement, was notified by marine engineer Reuben Clarsen that structural repairs were complete, the pier was allowed to reopen.

Antonious was out of town Friday and could not be reached for comment.

"Everybody is happy they can go all the way to the end of the pier," said his wife, Sue. "The pier is in great shape, and the judge made the right decision."

[Last modified October 22, 2007, 15:54:01]

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