Old Ponquogue Bridge Piers Get Mixed Reviews From Engineers

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Southampton Town officials say they are optimistic about preserving at least one of two deteriorating fishing piers in Hampton Bays, both remnants of the old Ponquogue Bridge, after taking a closer look at both this past week.

Southampton Town Trustees Ed Warner Jr. and Scott Horowitz, along with Town Engineer Christine Fetten and Town Parks and Recreation Department Director Chris Bean, examined the pilings on both remaining footings—located on the north and south sides of Shinnecock Bay—on Friday afternoon. While standing on the bow of a Southampton bay constable boat, Ms. Fetten tested the durability of the pilings by seeing how deep she could wedge point-sharpened screwdrivers into the wooden support beams.

Mr. Horowitz said the south pier, the one accessible from Dune Road, was in better shape than he had anticipated. “The piles on the south side, we checked the ones on the outer side of the whole structure,” he said. “They all seem to be in good shape. So we’re going to go ahead with the underwater dive team taking a look.”

Mr. Horowitz was referring to the town’s plan to direct Westhampton Beach-based Chesterfield Associates to send a dive team to conduct a more comprehensive examination of the 84-year-old structures, both of which are popular fishing destinations that were closed off to the public earlier this fall based on safety concerns. He added that the town wanted to take a look at the piers first to ensure that it is worth the money to have them examined further.

“We’re doing the due diligence to show that it makes sense to move forward,” he said.

As of earlier this week, it was still unclear who would actually conduct the underwater study, and how much it would cost the town, as it still needs to be put out to bid.

But as positive as Friday’s results were for the south pier, they were equally negative for its counterpart on the north side. Mr. Warner said many of the pilings on the east side of the north pier were missing, likely displaced during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Ms. Fetten said the pilings that she tested were considerably less sturdy than those supporting the southern pier.

Mr. Warner said the condition of the north pier is not dire; it could be saved, he added, by making the pier narrower or reshaping it to reduce its load-bearing capacity. “You can get away with a lot less there if it’s scaled back,” he said.

Both piers were closed to the public last month and remain blocked off by temporary fencing.

The Town Board had toyed with the idea of tearing both structures down, and possibly replacing them, but has since reconsidered that approach after receiving significant backlash from residents who enjoy using the piers as both fishing and scuba diving destinations because of the plethora of underwater life that they attract.

During last week’s Hampton Bays Civic Association meeting, Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the town is committed to saving the piers, noting that it has already requested $1.5 million in remediation funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That funding, if secured, will be spent to repair both piers. The town has also set aside $1 million in its capital works budget if it fails to secure the federal funding.

Originally, Mr. Horowitz, Mr. Warner and Ms. Fetten planned to examine the piers last Wednesday, November 19, but had to reschedule due to inclement weather. Although Friday’s blistering cold and blustery winds were unpleasant, the strong seaward breeze helped keep the tide low, giving engineers a clear view of the pier pilings.

“We had an extreme tide event and saw more of the pilings than normal,” Ms. Fetten said. “So that was helpful.”

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