Five goals that spell out the purpose of three North Carolina Aquarium fishing piers do not mention the word jobs. The three piers are Jennette’s Pier – currently under construction in Nags Head – and Emerald Isle and Carolina Beach piers, which are both in early stages of financing and development. Once the projects are done, North Carolina taxpayers will help finance $56 million to $75 million of the construction, as well as help pay for each pier’s operating and personnel budgets every year.
The three piers are to provide diverse recreational fishing opportunities and enhanced public beach access; demonstrate effective sustainable practices for storm water control, energy generation, water use, coastal construction and fishing; provide opportunities for research and interpretation of the unique cultural, historical, and environmental features of the N.C. coast and open ocean; encourage and promote public-private partnerships that foster the Aquariums mission; and inspire appreciation and conservation of North Carolina’s aquatic environments through engaging family experiences, programs and exhibits.
Constructing three piers was an idea that originated from a 2007 Waterfront Access and Marine Industry (WAMI) Report to the N.C. Legislature. The report stated, “The (WAMI) Committee recommends that the North Carolina Aquariums be authorized and funded to pilot the design, development, and operation of three (3) public fishing piers that not only would provide angling access, but also would offer public educational opportunities.”
The WAMI report, however, is not how the fishing piers were sold to the N.C. General Assembly. The first of the three piers under construction is Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head. Jennette’s Pier was in the pipeline to be reconstructed after it became unstable from years of hurricane damage, specifically from Hurricane Isabel in 2003. The Legislature was told construction of the pier was a means to create hundreds of construction jobs immediately. But it turns out, disappointingly, that construction job estimates were exaggerated, workers were from out of state, and the project did not reach its anticipated 555 on-site and 1,250 off-site construction jobs. Clancey & Theys, Jennette’s Pier general contractor, was unable to be reached for specific employment numbers.
Aside from its slated grand re-opening date of May 21, 2011, the one other actual “goal” Jennette’s Pier might accomplish is hiring 11 full-time employees. A preliminary $557,064 pier staffing budget outlines full-time personnel budget salaries, plus benefits, as:
Pier Manager – $68,268
Assistant Pier Manager and Public Relations Coordinator – $63,310
Administrative Assistant – $46,761
Special Events – $49,767
Educator – $49,767
Rent Coordinator – $49,767
Building Superintendent – $45,318
Aquarist – $49,767
Administrative Manager – $53,232
Registrar – $43,985
Housekeeper – $37,122
Pier operating expenses were estimated at $150,000 a year, according to a March 2010 revenue projections and operating budget report. Since then, the recently hired Jennette’s Pier Manager Mike Remige claims the new operating budget estimate is $578,000 a year. Now that the operating budget is more than three times what was estimated in March 2010, will Jennette’s Pier cut its staff or will the Aquariums Division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ask the state for more funding?
Jennette’s Pier construction cost is $25 million. The estimated benefit to the state economy is $14 million. Money to fund the project was unanimously approved by state legislators in 2009. The Aquarium Division asked the Legislature for funds because they couldn’t find enough in the money they had earmarked for construction of the pier when construction costs came in over budget.
All three pier budgets are anticipated to be paid for by Aquarium admission receipts, pier user fees, grants, contributions from other government agencies and donations to the North Carolina Aquarium Society, a membership-based support group. As budgets keep fluctuating, there is little doubt that the three so-called self-sustaining piers will push the cost of each one to operate, maintain and staff onto the taxpayer in the form of increased taxes.
According to the North Carolina Aquariums Web site, “Planning for the pier at Emerald Isle is moving forward after the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries awarded the project $2.2 million from the Waterfront Access and Marine Industry (WAMI) Fund in 2008. The Aquarium and the Town are partnering to build the pier at the Eastern Ocean Regional Access. The town owns the property, and will turn it over to the state for the project. The 4.1-acre site was home to the Emerald Isle Pier until it was torn down after damage from two 1996 hurricanes.”
The Emerald Isle and Carolina Beach piers are going to reflect a similar style as Jennette’s Pier. Both will have concrete pilings to withstand storms and timber decks to reflect tradition, and extend 1,000 feet in length. Construction cost for both are estimated at $15 to $16 million, respectively. That is nearly the same amount Jennette’s Pier was initially estimated to cost in 2006.
Emerald Isle and Carolina Beach plan to hire full-time and seasonal workers. Carolina Beach Aquarium Director Donna Moffit said they want to hire 10 full-time employees once the project is complete in three to five years.
When asked how many construction jobs or any other job this project could create, Moffit said, “that is total speculation at this point.”