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Open and shut--and open again 

Responding to business owners who’ve lost thousands of dollars in just a few weeks, the San Luis Port Harbor District Board of Directors unanimously re-opened the Harford Pier in Avila Beach to passenger traffic.

click to enlarge OUTRAGED :  Residents and business owners came out in force to oppose the closure of the Harford Pier in Avila Beach to passenger vehicle traffic. - PHOTO PANORAMA BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO PANORAMA BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • OUTRAGED : Residents and business owners came out in force to oppose the closure of the Harford Pier in Avila Beach to passenger vehicle traffic.

On March 4, with little to no business input, the board voted 3-2 to shut out passenger vehicles from the pier, a decision that went into effect on March 9. At the board’s March 29 meeting, business owners and residents jammed the room to criticize board members, particularly Harbor Manager Steve McGrath.

At the direction of the board, McGrath closed the pier to all vehicle traffic, worried that a fast-moving car suddenly coming to a stop could shake the structure and cause the historic canopy at the far end to topple. For more than 20 years, the canopy—erected in 1919—has been considered potentially dangerous, with a few patch jobs over the years to keep it standing.

A Feb. 2 report by the engineering firm Cannon Associates recommended banning vehicles weighing more than 7,000 pounds and imposing strict speed limits. Rather than devote cost and personnel to weighing vehicles and enforcing speed limits, the board directed McGrath to bar all vehicles.

But in the few weeks the pier was closed, business owners—who operate restaurants and fish markets beneath the canopy—say they’ve lost up to half of their income.

At the onset of the March 29 meeting, McGrath said he empathized with their plight, but that he stood by his decision to ban vehicle traffic. (Delivery trucks were still allowed to drive on the pier because they travel slowly, officials said.)

Public speakers hammered the district for going beyond the engineer’s recommendation. District officials are waiting to complete more studies of pilings beneath the canopy section, but have been stalled by bad weather.

“The pier closure represents a potential death blow to businesses on the pier,” said Michael Cohen, owner of Olde Port Fisheries, who added that he lost 43 percent of his business and was considering closing within weeks.

The board members chose to reverse the earlier decision, and district officials will pursue other methods such as speed limit enforcement, adding stop signs, and someday finding alternative ways for people to get to the end of the pier, such as a trolley or shuttle service.

Meanwhile, district officials must also figure out how to repair the canopy either by fixing it in place or by removing it, repairing the pier beneath, and rebuilding the canopy.

According to Olde Port Inn owner Leonard Cohen, district officials and business owners will convene a committee to discuss how to repair the canopy. A committee recommendation should come before the board of directors for its scheduled April 26 hearing.

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