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Boardwalk regulars ask: Will this ever be finished?

STORY BY STEPHANIE LABAFF (Week of August 12, 2021)

Five months after the renovation of the popular Conn Beach boardwalk started – and two months after it was supposed to be completed – it is at best two-thirds done.

Days go by with little sign of progress, and often with little sign of construction workers.

The explanation, according to Vero Beach Assistant Public Works Director Richard Mutterback, lies in a combination of the discovery of unexpected structural damage and rainy weather.

But the project is now expected to be ‘substantially complete’ by the end of August, Mutterback says.

Ask any of the people who formerly used the boardwalk for their daily exercise if they believe that.

The only thing most seemed prepared to believe last week was that the original budget of $396,000 has already increased by 10 percent.

Over the past 37 years since it was built in 1984, frequent piecemeal repairs were made to the seaside structure in an attempt to keep up with damage as it was battered, season after season, by wind, sand and waves.

The environment gradually won the battle. By the end of 2020, the boardwalk was in bad shape, with broken-down steps and a buckling surface.

Biting the bullet, the city hired Miami Lakes-based Tadeos Engineering LLC to completely renovate a 1,460-linear-foot stretch of the boardwalk between the south end of the structure and the flagpole near Jaycee Park, installing new decking, handrails, benches and streetside stairs, using composite materials and stainless hardware sturdier than the existing materials.

The job got underway in early March, with Tadeos projecting a June 14 completion date, but the company soon discovered that more of the wooden substructure had to be replaced than anticipated, according to Mutterback.

“Most of that substructure is under sand, so you couldn’t really tell how many of the pile caps had to be replaced until they started the demolition. Each time they open a section up, the engineer of record goes out and inspects everything” to determine what needs to be pulled out and replaced, Mutterback said.

The most recent beach renourishment project adjacent to the boardwalk buried much of structure and the sand had to be dug out by hand to replace rotted pilings.

The going was made slower still by a need to avoid disturbing turtle nests. Mutterback said the project manager was in frequent contact with the county turtle program to ensure nests weren’t impacted.

Workers have been making repairs in sections so that other parts of the boardwalk could remain open.

“It has been our goal from the beginning to maintain access,” said Mutterback. “When this project first started, I was so surprised by the number of people who use that boardwalk. Every time we go out – 9 o’clock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, it doesn’t matter – it seems to always be in use.”

Besides structural repairs, the project includes installation of Florida Department of Environmental Protection-approved turtle-strip lighting on the inside of the east handrails, facing toward the street, where the lights won’t confuse sea turtle hatchlings on their trek to the ocean, and installation of a sand fence along the western base of the boardwalk to prevent sand from blowing off the dune and onto streetside parking spots.

“That way, you won’t step out of your car and into the sand,” Mutterback said. “As for the boardwalk itself, it should be substantially completed this month.”

A second phase of the project budgeted at $400,000 over two years is included in the city’s 5-year plan. It will include replacing all of the staircases and dune crossovers that drop down from the boardwalk to the beach.

Scheduled to get underway in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, it still has to be approved by the City Council.