Orange County Branch Newsletter

July/August 2016

Branch News

California Piers


California Piers

By Tom Broz, PE, SE

At the March 17, 2017 OC Branch Meeting a presentation on the piers of California and most specifically the San Clemente and Huntington Beach piers was enjoyed by all in attendance.  Tom Broz, P.E., S.E. - OC Branch History and Heritage Committee Chair, introduced the two main speakers, Bill Cameron, P.E. – Public Works Director / City Engineer for the City of San Clemente and Tom Herbel, P.E. – City Engineer for the City of Huntington Beach and provided an overview of the piers of California.  Tom noted these facts about our piers:

  • Piers were originally constructed to provide access to boats for the purpose of loading and offloading cargo but ultimately were constructed mainly for recreational purposes.
  • There are over 60 piers on the California Coast.

  • Piers are constructed of either timber or concrete or a combination of the two materials
  • Coastal piers extend out over 1,800 feet
  • The longest piers are in San Francisco Bay with some extending over 4,000 feet but the purists don’t consider them piers because they are not in the ocean and subject to the kinds of ocean waves that can be devastating to a pier.

Bill Cameron provided a history of the San Clemente pier.  The San Clemente Pier was originally built and paid for in 1928 by Ole Hanson.  This all timber pier was designed by the town’s engineer William Ayer.

A café was located at the end of the pier and it had a trap door in its floor that was supposedly used by rum runners to move illegal (during the time of Prohibition) alcohol from small boats under the pier.

In 1939 the only tropical storm (El Cordonazo – The Lash of St. Francis) to ever make landfall in Southern California severely damaged the pier washing half of it away.  The pier was reconstructed adding 275 new pilings and changing the end to a T-shape.

In 1983 a large El Nino generated storm again caused severe damage to the pier.  From the mid-section of the pier 80 feet was lost and from the end 400 feet was lost along with 48% of the pilings missing.  Before reconstruction efforts were undertook a hard look was taken at the design criteria used for the pier.  From an oceanography / hydraulics standpoint the directions from which the damaging waves was identified.  The issue of not only wave impact but also wave uplift was assessed along with the depth of the ocean bottom immediately under and adjacent to the pier.  As a result when the pier was repaired the end was raised 3 feet, breakaway decking was added, and steel piles wrapped in HDPE were used at the end of the pier.

In 1988 another large El Nino generated storm hit the pier but with the new design features only a few pilings were broken.

The City has now undertaken an aggressive program to maintain and preserve the pier.  The pier is annually inspected for loss of wood from abrasion and marine borers.  A full and extensive inspection of the pier is conducted every five years.  Additional preventive measures have been implemented including wrapping all pilings in the surf zone with HDPE jackets and providing cathodic protection for all steel pilings.  Additionally, a reserve fund has been established in the City budget to not only fund these proactive measures but also to have funds immediately available for repairs should they be needed.

Tom Herbel provided a history of the Huntington Beach pier.  The Huntington Beach Pier was originally built and paid for in 1903 and was an all timber pier.

In 1912 the pier was destroyed by a storm.  The pier was rebuilt in 1914 by the Mercean Bridge Company.  The Mercean Bridge Company gave the City the option for the rebuilt pier of either wood or concrete construction.  Thomas Talbert convinced the community to spend the extra money for a concrete structure.  This new concrete pier lasted until 1988.  Like the San Clemente pier, the Huntington Beach pier suffered damage in the 1939 the tropical storm (El Cordonazo – The Lash of St. Francis) but unlike the San Clemente pier the Huntington Beach pier was also damaged by the 1933 Long Beach earthquake.

The earthquake damage was probably a result of the piers proximity to Long Beach and its concrete construction which was not as forgiving (ductility) as timber construction.

The 1983 and 1988 El Nino generated storms caused significant damage to the Huntington Beach pier.  The 1983 storm damage resulted in the pier being closed until 1987 and then a year later the 1988 storm struck resulting in the pier being totally rebuilt 100% from the ocean bottom up.

Like San Clemente’s pier rebuild in 1983, prior to the 1990 rebuild of the Huntington Beach pier a hard look was taken at the design criteria used for the pier.  Just like San Clemente the directions from which the damaging waves came were identified along with a reassessment of maxim design wave height.  As a result when the pier was rebuilt the end of the new pier raises up almost 10.5 feet from its starting elevation at the beach.  Additionally, prestressed concrete piles were used with numerous numbers of them installed as battered piles.

The ocean piers of California have a large positive economic impact on the Cities that maintain them but this does not come without costs.  Both speakers Bill Cameron, P.E. – Public Works Director / City Engineer for the City of San Clemente and Tom Herbel, P.E. – City Engineer for the City of Huntington Beach presented how each of their cities deals with these costs while enjoying the benefits of their piers.

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