OCEANSIDE — Plank by plank, piling by piling, there's a pier taking shape on the seashore here.
Work began in earnest last week on Oceanside's pier, a 1,942-foot structure that will replace a wave-racked predecessor that had fallen victim to the ocean.
But this, mind you, won't be just another set of pretty pilings. It'll be a pier with few peers.
City officials boast that the pier, expected to be completed by next summer, will be a state-of-the-art structure and the undisputed centerpiece of Oceanside's blossoming oceanfront.
"We've taken the positive aspects from all the piers that have been built over the past few years and integrated them in this one," said Dick Watenpaugh, city recreation director and one of the officials overseeing the project. "When it's finished, we'll have a very high-tech pier."
To begin with, the pier will be higher off the surf, enabling it to escape some of the piling-crunching waves from fierce winter storms. In addition, workers will encase traditional wooden pilings with hard plastic coatings to more effectively ward off the day-to-day grind of sand moving with the swells.
Officials hope the $5-million waterfront edifice will help civic revitalization efforts, luring visitors who in recent decades have avoided the rundown area around the pier.
"It'll be one of the big draws," Watenpaugh said.
But building a structure suspended above waves a quarter mile out at sea is no easy task, and the Oceanside project has a few added engineering oddities. Glenn Prentice, the city's public works director, described the construction effort as being akin to erecting a building with the original structure still standing in place.
A 900-foot stretch of the old municipal fishing pier that was spared by the waves will be used by workmen as a perch for their heavy equipment as they drive wooden supports deep into the ocean floor, working their way outward from the shoreline.
Once the pier is built, scuba divers will use underwater buzz saws to cut down the old pilings. The hefty timbers will then be floated to shore.
The new pier will be the fifth one at that location in Oceanside. Historians do not know when the first pier was built but say it was replaced in 1894, when city officials spent $1,200 building the second one. That one eventually fell to the waves, and a wood and steel pier replaced it in 1927. Even steel proved vulnerable to the ocean, and a wooden pier was erected in 1947.
Winter waves lopped off about 600 feet of that pier in 1978, and a 110-foot section fell in 1983.
Eager to rebuild the structure, city officials placed a measure on the ballot in November, 1983, to fund much of the cost of rebuilding the pier, but voters rejected it.
Despite that setback, the City Council forged ahead, using a combination of state grants and loans combined with municipal park fees paid by developers to finance the project.
Late last year, sandblasting and other restoration work began on the pier's 340-foot concrete base, a sweeping set of ramps anchoring the structure to the shoreline at Third Street. That work, which will include several coats of paint, is expected to be finished by September, Prentice said.
But workers from Crowley Constructors Inc., a Long Beach marine construction firm, did not begin swarming over the wooden portion of the pier until a couple of weeks ago. Swinging crowbars and hammers, they methodically stripped the railing, planks and lighting fixtures from the old pier, leaving only pilings and thick wooden beams.
On Wednesday, the second phase of the operation began. First a bulldozer graded a roadway on the beach to the foot of the old wooden pier and formed a sandy bed adjacent to the pilings. Then construction crews slowly motored a 110-ton crane onto huge timbers laid on the pad.
Next, a second, smaller crane was driven to the site and hooked by cable to the 100-foot boom of the larger machine. Like a mother hefting her baby, the big crane lifted the 65-ton machine upward and placed it gently on the pier.
Harold DeNike, operations manager for Owl Crane and Rigging, a Compton-based firm acting as a subcontractor for Crowley, said the only real worry was whether the sand might give way under the weight of the cranes.
"This was just a little bit of a touchy job," DeNike said, kicking at the sand after the operation was completed. "With this type of ground, you never know what's going to happen. That's the problem."
In the days and weeks to come, Prentice said, the squat, white-and-rust-colored little crane will be used to pound rows of Douglas fir pilings into the ocean bottom, each placed midway between the existing pilings. Workers will use hydraulic pressure pipes to help force the pilings down, placing the huge timbers 40 feet below the ocean bottom.