MOUNT PLEASANT — After years of planning and up to $700,000 already spent, the town is poised to scrap the extension of the Waterfront Memorial Park pier.
The extension was to add boat slips for daytime use and the possibility of future water taxi or ferry service.
Instead, the town may spend the pier extension money on a new restaurant, a dog park and improvements to parking.
Mayor Will Haynie said extending the pier would cost the town $5.9 million, plus another $1.2 million in federal funds "to build essentially 10 boat slips."
Haynie's closest ally on Town Council, Joe Bustos, said the cost seems too high, even if walking away from the project means giving up the federal grant and the money already spent.
“It’s not that we’re throwing away $2 million, it’s that we’re not spending $5 million," he said at a council meeting Tuesday.
The money would actually be spent, but on different planned projects at the park that haven't been funded. Doing so could potentially free up town funds for other priorities, such as drainage improvements in the Old Village, at a time when officials have expressed concern about the town's long-term finances.
The park on the Cooper River next to the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which opened in 2009, already has a long pier that's used for fishing, sightseeing and special events. The extension would have added a dozen boat slips for daytime use, two of which would have been reserved for public services such as police and fire boats.
Other park improvements costing roughly $7.5 million were expected to follow the pier extension, with about half the money going toward building a second-floor restaurant space on top of the park's existing retail and snack shop, which the town would rent to a restaurant operator.
Town Administrator Eric DeMoura said about $1 million has been spent planning all the phases of the park improvements, with $600,000 to $700,000 of that amount devoted to planning and permitting the pier extensions.
Gerald “Jiggin’ Jerry” Granier fishes the pier frequently and makes fishing videos that have been viewed on YouTube hundreds of thousands of times. He has been an outspoken opponent of the pier extension and welcomed the news that the town may scrap the plan.
“That is fantastic," Granier said. "It’s a win for the wildlife, and it’s a win for the reasons we consider the Lowcountry special.
"If you could see how many people just stare (from the pier) at the wildlife — manatees, cow-nosed stingrays, sturgeon, birds — it’s just amazing," he said.
The fate of the pier extension is not certain, but a majority of Town Council members voted to defund it in an April committee meeting. At a May 14 meeting, just three of the nine council members supported keeping the pier extension plan alive — Gary Santos, Bob Brimmer and Kevin Cunnane.
"It will allow boats to come over and drop people off at the (park) dock for events,” Santos said. “I think the police and fire opportunities, to be able to cover the water much faster and serve our citizens, is the most important.”
Cunnane also said it would improve public safety if the town's fire boat could dock there.
The reason the pier extension was supposed to be the first phase of planned park improvements was not because of public safety but because boat access was what the public wanted.
“A few years back there was public comment, public input taken on what the next phases of the park should look like, and access by boat to the waterfront park was the biggest item that came forward," DeMoura said.
A final decision is up to Town Council, which has punted the issue to its Finance Committee. Previous committee and council votes show a lack of support for the pier extension.