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Folly Beach pier closing Oct. 19 for 2-year replacement project after shipworm damage

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FOLLY BEACH — Park officials will close the fishing pier here on Oct. 19 to begin replacing the structure that has become heavily damaged by shipworms.

The replacement effort will take the next 28 months and cost $14 million.

Teddy Manos, chair of the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, said the new pier will look a lot like the current one with fishing stations and an architectural diamond at the end. But there will be some improvements.

"We're going to include unobstructed views of the ocean 360 degrees, and we're going to have more covered fishing areas for people to enjoy, and better pedestrian access," Manos said. 

Most importantly, county officials won't have to replace the pier again in 25 years, Manos said, because the new one will be built with cement pilings expected to last more than 60 years.

The concrete pilings will be stronger and resist marine worms.

Construction on the 1,039-foot structure will occur in phases, though it will remain closed to the public until 2023, officials said in a Friday news conference.

The Edwin S. Taylor Folly Beach Fishing Pier has been a popular attraction since it opened more than two decades ago. But, for years now, shipworms have been slowly destroying the pilings meant to hold up the iconic wooden structure.

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Carolyn Hardy of James Island reads a book on the Folly Beach pier on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. "It's my comfort place," said Hardy, who comes to the pier to read at least once a week. Lauren Petracca/Staff

Shipworms are saltwater clams resembling worms that bore into wood so destructively they are derisively called “termites of the sea.” The worms were so much of a scourge during the wooden ship sailing days that hulls were sheathed in copper to protect them.

The shipworms bury themselves within wood, where they grow in length and diameter. The entrance holes may never grow, but the interior of the wood could develop a damaging honeycomb-like appearance, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Structural damage from shipworms in salt or brackish water is a problem worldwide, the agency said. 

Forty-five of the Folly Beach pier's most damaged pilings have been encased in cement to slow the deterioration and keep the structure safe. But timber pile piers typically last only about 20 to 25 years. The pier on Folly Beach is right at that mark.

Instead of continuously repairing damaged pilings, the best long-term solution was to construct a new pier, said Sarah Reynolds, a spokeswoman for PRC.

Folly Beach has had three different piers over the years. County parks Executive Director David Bennett said the first one, 97-feet long, opened in 1930. It eventually burned down. A new pier — the Ocean Plaza Boardwalk, was opened in 1960. But, that one burned, too.

Then came the current pier in 1995. It's the only one on Folly Beach that hasn't gone up in flames. 

Bennett said more than 6 million people have visited the pier over its lifetime, including over 465,000 who came to fish.

"So no wonder this pier is tired," Bennett said. "It needs a refresher."

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Beachgoers walk under the Folly Beach pier on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. Lauren Petracca/Staff

Funding is covered under a general obligation bond, Reynolds said.

The new structure will have traditional wood decking and rails. The concrete piles underneath will hold up better in the ocean environment, said Bruce Wright, Charleston County Parks' senior project manager.

Once construction starts, the Pier 101 restaurant and gift shop in the deck area will close for a few months before reopening in the spring of 2021, Manos said. 

"We welcome everybody to enjoy those amenities of the pier that will start back and be open in the spring of '21 and hope people can come to this area and watch the construction," Manos said.

Those who are interested can also view the progress of the pier on the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission's website, ccprc.com.

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