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Saying they don’t want to close off a popular public amenity unless absolutely necessary, the Martinez City Council this week voted to move quickly to make stopgap repairs to the city’s deteriorating fishing pier.

The council also directed city staff to pursue a state grant that could potentially cover the cost of lasting fixes estimated to cost at least $800,000.

While City Attorney Jeff Walter told the council Wednesday the safest course of action with the pier would be “shutting it down right now,” Mayor Rob Schroder and other council members said they would rather hold off on that at least until a dive crew does a thorough pile inspection beneath water level. A crew is set to do that inspection this weekend.

The pier, they maintained, is a regional draw, is free and is used by many low-income people, and thus should be kept open. The only public comment on the pier proposal Wednesday night was from a woman urging the council to keep it open at least until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, “for our mental health.”

“We don’t feel the pier should be left open much longer. It’s a pretty stout pier, but it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”

Jim Kearney, COWI Marine North America

Councilman Mark Ross asked whether it is worth it for the city to invest money in repairing the existing pier. Jim Kearney, project manager and senior marine engineer for COWI Marine North America, told Ross, “It’s definitely salvageable,” and that there are interim fixes that could extend its life. Those, he said, still must be identified.

In December, the city spent about $34,000 on a detailed study by COWI Marine to assess the pier’s condition. The Martinez Fishing Pier Above Water Inspection Report, received in July, describes several spots deemed to be “serious” structural problems, and others as in “severe” condition.

Kearney showed some of the worst problems to the council Wednesday night; images included pilings hollowed out and weakened by tiny boring clams and isopods and by the waves; and at least one support beam under the pier planks rotted out and cracked.

“We don’t feel the pier should be left open much longer,” Kearney said. “It’s a pretty stout pier, but it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”

Boring damage caused to pilings on the Martinez fishing pier by marine creatures is illustrated in a presentation from COWI Marine North America, a consultant hired by the city to determine needed repairs for the pier. (Photo courtesy of city of Martinez)

Based on the above-water-level study, COWI Marine estimates the above-the-waterline repairs will cost about $800,000.

The pier was first built in 1934, and parts of it were rebuilt in 1976.

Martinez city staff will now pursue a California Department of Parks and Recreation grant to pay for pier repairs.

Michael Chandler, Martinez’s deputy city manager, told the council Wednesday that $395 million is to be distributed in this fourth round of “Prop. 68” funding, but that these grants are extremely competitive. In the previous funding round, he said, almost $255 million went out to 52 grant recipients, from among 478 applications.

“We feel we can get a good package together and give it a chance,” said Chandler, noting the pier’s popularity as a regional attraction would bolster the application.

But that work will have to happen fast, as these grant applications require at least five community workshops. The first, Chandler said, could come as soon as Oct. 20.

And even if the city receives a grant, that likely wouldn’t be until summer 2021, and that a closure could still come in the interim. Part of that, he said, would depend on what this weekend’s underwater piling inspection turns up.

“Hopefully what the divers find doesn’t put another ‘zero’ on that $800,000,” Chandler said.