According to St. Johns County officials, the stretch of coastline from south Georgia to Fort Lauderdale is the most corrosive in the nation.
Evidence of the corrosion can be seen on the St. Augustine Beach pier, one that’s 25 years old and nearing the end of its lifespan.
Janice Vose, who spent her time under the pier Tuesday, said she had the best seat on the beach.
“It’s shady. There’s a breeze,” Vose said.
But what she didn’t know was she could have been in danger.
A few months ago, during a routine inspection, an engineering firm found the pier has problems, most visibly the corrosion on the pilings holding it up and cracks in the concrete.
Engineers advised the county to take action, so county officials installed netting under the pier to catch any falling debris and also posted warning and danger signs to be extra safe.
“A small chance, a remote chance that some concrete could spall off of the concrete structure portion due to the rebar rusting and cause a problem, so we put up the signs as a precautionary measure,” said Mike Rubin, St. Johns County director of construction.
Most people walk right under the pier without noticing the signs, but Rubin said it would take a big storm to knock down such a sturdy structure.
“If a failure were to come, it would be when the pier would be under maximum stress during a hurricane event or a big storm or big wave action, and there’d be no one on the pier at that time anyway,” Rubin said.
The 650-foot-long pier is supported by pilings up to 36 inches in diameter.
“Those metal pilings that you’re seeing are actually filled with concrete,” Rubin said. “There’s rebar in the top 10 feet of them, and while the concrete doesn’t really provide a lot of lateral structural strength, the real strength is in the pilings themselves.”
The big question is exactly how much the pilings have decayed over time. Until that’s answered, Vose said she’s staying put.
“I’m in paradise. I feel so grateful,” she said.
The county plans to have the engineering firm take a closer look to evaluate the extent of the damage, and then the board will decide what to do. A new pier is a possibility in St. Augustine’s future, but it would probably be about five years before one could be built.