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New London - One of the prime areas to view the annual Sailfest fireworks show will be off-limits this summer because City Pier is unsafe.
The engineering firm that assessed City Pier says no major gatherings, including Sailfest, should take place on the outer 140 feet of the pier.
Milone & MacBroom of Cheshire is recommending the entire 70-year-old pier be replaced and, short of that, nearly half of the pier should be "securely fenced off to prevent use by the public."
"The top looks in good condition, the problems are underneath,'' Glenn Jarvis, an engineer from Milone told the City Council Monday night. "The pier has settled two feet since it was constructed.''
Timbers that support the 350-foot concrete pier that extends into the Thames River behind Union Station are the original pilings installed in 1939. While some minor repair was done in the 1990s, Jarvis said the pilings have remained substantially untouched since installation. A new pier would cost about $4.1 million.
"... we cannot document that the piles have the ability to even support the concrete structure that makes up the pier,'' the report states.
After the presentation by Milone & MacBroom, the City Council unanimously approved the concept of rebuilding the pier and authorized City Manager Martin H. Berliner to submit a grant for stimulus money that could pay 45 percent of the cost of the project.
Councilor Michael Buscetto III, who said during the presentation that he could not vote for a concept without knowing if the city was actually going to rebuild the pier, left the meeting prior to the vote.
Barbara Neff, New London's waterfront coordinator, said she's discussed Sailfest with the city and the engineers, and only small vendors will be allowed on a portion of the pier during the city's 2 1/2-day event in July.
"It'll be fine,'' she said. "We'll work it out."
Vendors will be moved to the Waterfront Park, she said.
The pier is one of the prime locations to watch the Grucci fireworks, which are shot off from the middle of the Thames River during Sailfest. People arrive early on the day of the fireworks and place chairs and blankets to reserve spots along the pier and Waterfront Park.
While limited pedestrian access and fishing from the end of the pier can continue, the engineers recommend no vehicles or trailers that weigh more than 4,000 pounds be allowed on the pier. If vendor booths and carts are allowed on a portion of the pier, they should be spaced to allow even weight distribution.
Last June, just before Sailfest, the city did emergency repair work to the pier after brick pavers began sinking, causing a tripping hazard. Engineers discovered that many of the pile caps in the water that support the concrete pier deck were corroded and breaking off.
In November, the city hired Milone & MacBroom to evaluate the damage.
The report says the concrete pile caps, which attach the wood piling to the concrete pier, are severely degraded. There are 308 pilings, installed in an 8-by-8 foot grid pattern. They are sitting on unstable material, according to the report.
"If you get a lot of people out there and it starts cracking, then slips ... you don't want people out there,'' Jarvis said.
Any work done to the pier would need approvals and permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers.