Like so many fingers reaching out into the Atlantic Ocean, North Carolina’s fishing piers have provided fishing opportunities for decades. It’s part of the cultural heritage, the DNA of the North Carolina Coast, but storm damage and developers’ wrecking balls have taken their toll. No place is it more evident than on Bogue Banks, the heart of the Crystal Coast.
“There used to be eight piers on Bogue Banks,” said Frank Rush, Emerald Isle town manager. “Now only two. We just think it would be a shame to have a place like Emerald Isle, without an ocean fishing pier.”
The two piers remaining are Oceanana Pier in Atlantic Beach and Bogue Pier in Emerald Isle.
“In 2003,” said Rush, “the state aquariums purchased Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head. Due to severe storm damage (from Hurricane Isabelle) they started proceeding with the construction of a new aquarium pier up there, and in 2011 a 1,000-foot-long, concrete pier, with an amazing pier house opened.”
The new Jennette’s Pier is operated and maintained by the State Aquarium in Manteo.
“When we saw that happening up in Nags Head,” said Rush, “in Emerald Isle we quickly tried to get in line to be number two in the queue, and we were at one point number two in the (State aquarium-pier) queue.
“Then in 2006, we had a development group that came into Emerald Isle, which had a contract to purchase about 15 acres around and including Bogue Inlet Pier,” said Rush, “and we were very concerned that the (Bogue) pier would be a casualty of the redevelopment of that area.”
When the real estate market collapsed, the Bogue Pier purchase fell apart.
“Although Bogue Pier is still doing very well,” Rush said, “we just think that at some point in the future, whether it’s return of the market, and a new real estate opportunity or more likely if it’s storm damage that takes out the pier, the reality is that it probably doesn’t make sense for the private sector to build a new pier or invest a whole lot in a repair job. So again we want to be positioned to meet that need when the time comes.”
According to Rush, the Town of Emerald Isle, partnered with the state aquariums to submit a grant for starter funds for a concrete pier in Emerald Isle to be managed by the State Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores. They were awarded $2.2 million in 2008 from the Waterfront Access and Marine Industry Fund. These funds were allocated for design and site improvements at the site of the former Emerald Isle Pier, which was lost in the summer of 1996 due to hurricanes Bertha and Fran.
“Unfortunately,” said Rush, “this project became a casualty of the (state) budget challenges and then ultimately the General Assembly directed the aquariums to not be involved with these projects anymore.”
So what next?
“The Emerald Isle Board of Commissioners remains very committed to the idea of an ocean fishing pier in Emerald Isle,” Rush said. “It’s very much a long-term goal for us at this point, but we are definitely moving ahead with that. We’ve now formally severed the arrangement with the state, but we were very fortunate to have the remaining (WAMI) grant funds, about $700,000, so we’re going forward with parking lot and storm water improvements of the proposed site, and have those improvements completed by April of 2015. And in the meantime we are also plugging ahead with plans for the eventual construction of the fishing pier and trying to come up with a reasonable realistic financing plan going forward.”
The town is currently in possession of those concrete pier design documents, but how about the cost and the funding of a new pier?
Although the Nags Head Pier and massive pier house cost about $25 million, according to Rush, the current goal is for a 1,000-foot-long concrete fishing pier and very scaled back pier house in Emerald with an estimated cost in the $9 million to $10 million range.
At this point Rush and the Town of Emerald Isle are exploring corporate and/or private partnerships and grant funding as they look forward to a permanent concrete pier in Emerald Isle, in maybe five years or more, which will help secure the future heritage of Emerald Isle.