Fishing pier construction underway in Riverfront Park

Fishing pier construction underway in Riverfront Park

The fishing pier under construction at San Marco’s scenic Riverfront Park should discourage casting from the post-Hurricane Irma improved bulkhead in favor of a new 480-square-foot wooden pier at the end of a 40-foot boardwalk.

But residents remain concerned that the new pier will only increase traffic to an area that lacks adequate parking today.

San Marco City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber countered that limiting the size of the pier and restricting fishing to it rather than the new bulkhead — which has prompted complaints from residents in years past — could reduce traffic, at least from the fishing community.

She said the city cannot ban fishing on public property like Riverfront Park on River Road, but it can restrict fishing to a confined space. Residents will then be able to report those fishing from the shore for violating park rules. City parks staff would field the complaints and have the authority to remove violators, explained the councilwoman.

A boat dock and water taxi planned for the park in 2019 has since been removed from the project as too intense a use for the small but well-trafficked park, Ms. Cumber said.

Residents near the park received notices on the start of construction mailed a week before heavy equipment showed up recently. Construction completion is expected in Spring 2022.

Ms. Cumber said more precisely the project should wrap up in May. She said the schedule is aggressive but she’s confident it can be met, which would limit the duration of construction disruptions for residents to about five months.

“The fishing structure will be T-shaped,” city spokeswoman Caroline Adkins said by email. “The access pier will extend perpendicular from the bulkhead 40 [feet] into the river and the terminal platform will measure 12 [feet] wide [by] 40 [feet] long with the long dimension running parallel to the bulkhead.”

Design for the project totaled $112,549 and construction is budgeted at $354,830. The design was funded 50 percent by a Florida Inland Navigation District grant and 50 percent by the City of Jacksonville.

Ms. Adkins said construction is being funded with capital improvement project funds.

Anita Morrill, a 22-year San Marco resident and nine-year resident at the north end of River Road, said residents were thankful to learn of the project back in 2019 but they’ve been left out of discussions since then, leading to frustration now that construction has commenced.

“We never heard another word,” she said. “My biggest frustration as a homeowner is the lack of transparency on this project and other projects in the last two years. The lack of transparency is unacceptable. We should know what’s happening before it’s happening …

“The wheels were already in motion as I look back,” said Ms. Morrill of the 2019 meeting among residents and city officials. “I thought we would have more discussion. The grant was already underway so them asking us what we thought about the fishing pier was kind of moot.”

Ms. Morrill, who lost the first floor of her home in Hurricane Irma, loves the openness of Riverfront Park and how inviting it is for visitors.

“People come from all over to enjoy it — the sunsets in the winter, wedding proposals, graduations,” she said, adding that fishermen have the right to enjoy the river, too.

But while she and other residents understand and applaud the city’s intention of increasing public access to the St. Johns River, they’re also concerned that the new boardwalk and pier will exacerbate existing neighborhood challenges around parking and crime.

“If we can’t park now, why bring in more [traffic],” said Ms. Morrill.

Mary Phinizy has lived on River Road with a view of the park for the last 12 years and shares similar concerns to her neighbor at the north end of River Road.

“There is no parking here. There is literally none,” said Ms. Phinizy. “Why would you put something in that there is no place for anybody to park and enjoy?”

She said residents have endured rebuilding after Hurricane Irma, then the new bulkhead construction and now the fishing pier construction.

“That’s my front yard. I was the only one to stay during Hurricane Irma. It was something … I was able to save my downstairs,” she recalls.

Now she’s worried about the vibrations from construction damaging her home. She says the construction has already put cracks in her ceiling.

“These buildings are 85 years old,” she said. “This is disturbing an area that’s been through enough.”

Ms. Morrill recently met with the city’s parks director Daryl Joseph to share her concerns about parking and crime. Not much can be done on the parking issue, she said, but securing the park after hours should be the city’s top priority.

“It is a public park. But you’re just asking for more activity after dusk … So, they are still working on that. He told me there could be an automatic gate system to open and close at certain times. But who knows how high it is? People get creative,” she said.

She was told the pier capacity would be 20-25 people.

“Where are they all going to park?” questioned Ms. Phinizy. “The people working on the barge have to park on the grass in the park because there is no other place. If there’s no place 15 workers to park, where are 30 fishermen going to park? It’s like inviting 30 people for dinner with seating for 10.”

By Joel Addington
Resident Community News

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