CHATHAM – After several years of planning and at least two closures due to structural problems, the popular observation deck at the town-owned fish pier has gone out to bid for reconstruction.
The project is expected to be finished by June 15, just as the busy summer season is ramping up.
The fish pier is the town's most popular tourist attraction, drawing upwards of 200,000 people during summer, as many as 4,000 people a day at peak season, to watch fishing boats being offloaded. The numbers have increased in recent years as the pier has become a popular and accessible spot to see seals, which swim around the offloading area looking for handouts. A take-out operation at the Chatham Fish Pier Market has also contributing to the spot's growing popularity.
Because of structural issues, the observation deck is limited to no more than 100 people at a time. In September it was closed for a few days after a forklift working in the packing building struck a structural support beam. It was also closed a few years ago after the deck began pulling away from the fish packing building.
Replacement of the deck has been in the planning stages for more than four years. Officials have drawn up plans to replace the deck with a slightly larger structure with two means of access and a special outdoor elevator to comply with access requirements. The new deck is estimated to cost about $1.2 million.
The exact cost will be narrowed once the bids are received. The advertisement for the project was issued last week with a bid deadline of Nov. 28, said Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson. Other elements of the project, including replacing fuel lines will be add-ons and contingent on the bid prices, he said.
Three general contractors and numerous subcontractors have taken out bid packages, but only one came to a non-mandatory pre-bid conference and onsite inspection Nov. 7, Duncanson said. “We're hoping for more,” he said of the number of bidders.
He anticipates making a recommendation on the contract at the board of selectmen's Dec. 3 meeting. Funding for the project comes from an $11.3 million waterways infrastructure bond approved by voters in 2017. Approval by selectmen is needed to expend money under that program.
If the contract is awarded in December and work starts in January, the project could be completed by June 15, Duncanson told members of the Aunt Lydia's Cove committee last week.
“We think it's reasonable,” he said of the timeframe. The expectation, he added, is that much of deck will be prefabricated off-site. Other elements of the project, including replacing fuel lines and fuel tanks, will be add-ons and contingent on the bid prices, he said.
The fuel lines and tanks will figure in the next major project at the pier, a new bulkhead and pier along the south jog. Design work for that is “moving along,” Duncanson said. “It's getting refined.” Following that, interior renovation to pier buildings at next in line, he said.
With several other multi-million dollar waterfront infrastructure projects in the works, including a new upweller and pier at 90 Bridge St. and refurbishment of the Eldredge trap dock (see separate story), committee member Joel Rottner said he was concerned that the $11.3 million will be spent before the pier projects are completed. The town also has other capital projects in the works, including a new senior center and upgrades to the transfer station.
“At some point town meeting is going to say enough's enough,” Rottner said. “There's not an unlimited supply of money.”
Chairman Doug Feeney suggested the committee review the three major fish pier projects to identify savings. Rottner suggested the same be done with the other projects on the waterways infrastructure docket.