BAYPORT — Locals and visitors who have long enjoyed fishing and scenic vistas from the pier at Bayport are eager to see the structure rebuilt after Hurricane Hermine destroyed it in 2016.
But a Civil War shipwreck on the site — known by historians, but news to Hernando County commissioners — will delay the re-opening. And the new price tag is 10 times the original estimate — in part due to the historical concerns.
The wooden pier was built on the site of several clashes between union ships from Tampa and Confederate militia at Bayport, with a major battle in 1863, according to local historians. Assessing the impacts of construction on any artifacts is now part of the construction process, commissioners learned recently.
In early 2017, commissioners discussed replacing the damaged pier using money earmarked for protecting and maintaining environmentally sensitive lands, sparking controversy. Ultimately, commissioners moved some of the tax funds to the new "Quality of Life Fund" that didn’t have such strings attached.
At the time, commissioners were discussing a cost of about $80,000.
Since then, the county had to tap the Quality of Life Fund to help balance its budget, forcing the commission to find a loan to pay for rebuilding the pier. On July 10, the County Commission agreed to use a $799,460 line of credit for the project.
That includes a construction contract with Midcoast Construction Enterprises, of Largo, totalling just under $660,000. Another $77,000 will go to Cardno, an international engineering company with a local office, for the cultural resource assessment and inspection services. The remainder of the money will pay for the completed damage assessment, as well as engineering and project oversight by Cardno.
Commissioners learned in June about the complications caused by the shipwreck. The matter came up when the county applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, explained deputy county administrator Jeff Rogers.
Commissioner John Allocco asked why the archaeological assessment was needed, since there was a pier there before.
"If we find a shipwreck do we get to open it up as a new park with glass-bottom boats?’’ he quipped.
The agencies want to ensure that new supports and other work on the pier don’t impact the historical remains, Rogers said. He also was realistic about what that meant.
"Whenever you hit a historical area,’’ he said, "it costs you a lot of money and time.’’
There is one Civil War shipwreck near the pier and multiple shipwrecks in the general area of Bayport, according to David Letasi, a member of the board of Hernando Historic Preservation.
Artifacts from surrounding areas have been collected and preserved in the past, he said, including a port hole and a swivel arm used for a sink. Letasi said he was sure the county will protect the shipwreck site, but said residents need to let that happen in the proper time.
County Commission Chairman Steve Champion said he was eager to see the pier rebuilt, but shocked at the cost increase.
"This is what happens when government gets in the way," he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to reimburse the county for some portion of the pier costs. Several months ago, before learning of the shipwrecks, FEMA told the county the pier replacement would cost $332,953.
The county has offered no time line for when construction will begin or be completed.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.