The Mercury News
Seacliff pier demolition process begins
Residents, officials lament tearing down of Aptos landmark
The familiar crash and sizzle of the rolling ocean tide in Aptos was peppered with the revving of chainsaws and the steady beep of heavy construction equipment being staged Monday as crews prepared to demolish the badly damaged Seacliff pier, formerly attached to the iconic Cement Ship.
“It's really sad. (The pier) has been such a mainstay here for such a long time,” said Pam Crowell, who has lived in the Aptos area for more than 45 years and took a moment Monday morning to gaze across Seacliff State Beach from the towering bluffs above it.
Crowell said when her children were young, her family would frequent the beach, play on the pier and read about its history in the visitor center. “In a way, it's really devastating, but it happened and so you just have to move on.”
More than half the pier was swept away by heavy winter storms and a vicious ocean tide in early January, leaving the remaining section in a state of imminent collapse. Officials say the demolition process is expected to take six weeks and when the work is complete, no visible portions of the pier will be left.
“For me personally, it's a little difficult to see it go,” said Santa Cruz District State Parks Superintendent Joe Walters, who said he used to fish off of the pier when he was a child. “But it's in a state of disrepair at this time and for public safety, removing it is the right thing to do.”
Walters said the effort Monday was primarily focused on clearing debris and removing some of the memorial benches still attached to the pier along with the sky blue lifeguard tower, which was leaning over precariously as the deck beneath it sagged under its heavy weight. He said the benches will be stored in a safe location until the families that donated them can be contacted.
Once that effort is completed within the next day or two, Walters says the process of actually
tearing down the pier, led by Granite Construction, will begin. He said the Watsonville company is planning to bring in a dive team to help remove some of the pilings located in the water.
Most of the pier material will need to be disposed of, according to Walters, as the wood decking and pilings are pressure treated with chemicals that are considered toxic.
While sections of the state park from the waterline to the bluff that are in front of and immediately adjacent to the pier have been roped off, a walkway for public access has been established for community members to get close enough for photos and quiet reflections.
Mary Raffanti was raised in Aptos and as a teenager worked in the park's concession stand in the 1970s when it was located on the pier itself. She recalled other kids
coming up from the beach hungry for a burger and handing over wet money from their pockets, stuck together and caked with sand. She remembered thrilling walks on the Cement Ship with her brothers to watch its blow hole spew ocean mist into the warm summer breeze as the waves came in. Raffanti has been visiting the pier every other day in recent weeks to monitor the debris cleanup effort and reflect on the countless memories imbued within the structure itself.
“We've seen these big storms before, but to see it all go is kind of emotional,” said Raffanti, adding that she doesn't expect the pier to be rebuilt but had concerns about the long-term erosion of the nearby bluffs. “Mother Nature is in charge, right? We know this.”
The northern section of the park was also severely damaged during the January storms. A surging swell swept away large portions of the campground's fill material, seawall and most of
its underground infrastructure, leading to its closure for the remainder of the year.
But Mother Nature's work across the park has also brought about some positive developments.
According to Walters, the Cement Ship, also known as
the S.S. Palo Alto, has become an important sanctuary for marine animals in the region including starfish,
perch, cormorants, seagulls and more. He said the vessel, which was moved to its current location
in 1930, will remain in place.
As for the rest of the park that suffered major impacts in January, future designs are less clear, though officials have repeatedly said their intention is to create public-serving facilities that can withstand environmental challenges resulting from a changing climate.
“We welcome the public's input on the reimagining and rebuilding of Seacliff State Beach,” said Walters. “It's going to be a long process before we rebuild, but we want to rebuild it properly to adapt to climate change and make sure it's resilient to future storms as well.”
Public comments can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Construction crews will continue to work weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and public access will be limited.