New $1.8M Fort Hale Park pier opens in New Haven

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April 23–NEW HAVEN — State Sen. Martin Looney now can again take his grandson fishing off the pier at Fort Hale Park.

Six years after Tropical Storm Irene wrecked the popular East Shore gathering spot, the community assembled Monday at the newly rebuilt pier.

"I began taking my son fishing here in 1982; he was 6. Then we lost a few years after the pier was severely damaged in Hurricane Gloria in 1985, and then back again once it was restored," said Looney, a New Haven Democrat and President Pro Tempore in the state Senate. "Then in 2008 when my grandson was 6, we began taking him here with us as well. Unfortunately, since 2011, we haven’t been able to do that. We’re looking forward to doing that again."

Looney was one of several local, state and federal officials joining Mayor Toni Harp in a ceremony commemorating the grand opening of the rebuilt pier.

The original pier was badly damaged in 2011 by the impact of Irene and then completely destroyed in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy.

While it was more cost effective to remove the old pier and build a new one, which was funded with a $1.8 million state bond grant, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the pier needed to have a different design due to rising water levels.

"This state-of-the art pier marks not only an important investment in New Haven, it marks an important investment in our future — because it was built to withstand the unpredictable and powerful weather patterns brought on by a changing climate," Malloy said. "It’s an example of how we should be building in the 21st century — taking account of the fact that the sea will rise, and storms will be more frequent and more powerful than we have become accustomed to."

Despite being better oriented to withstand severe weather, Malloy said there is no guarantee future extreme weather events won’t cause damage to the new pier.

"You can’t assume anything," he said. "It’s built differently, taking into account the more difficult weather we’ve been experiencing over the past 10 years. It’s a modern attempt to defeat Mother Nature."

The yellow-wooded pier now extends 360 feet — 10 feet longer than before — into the teal waters of New Haven Harbor and features a 140-foot hammerhead walkway, or "T," at the end, something that should be especially enticing for fishermen hoping to cast in deeper waters, Harp said.

The hammerhead walkway also includes a 40-foot-wide octagonal space, which will serve as a new gathering space for classes, meetings or other events, according to Harp.

"This is a place where people come…This is where folks come together. We’re adding a jewel to our city today. We’re adding a jewel to our community. We’re adding a jewel to this region and to this state," said State Rep. Al Paolillo (D-New Haven).

For Paolillo, who is the former majority leader for the Board of Alders, the newly rebuilt pier is a gathering place for the community. He remembers coming to Fort Hale Park pier with his grandparents 35 years ago, he said.

"What was important for us was rebuilding the pier to recreate the opportunities that were here (before) and make them even better. A pier that would not only resist storms, but also work as a spot for the community," said City Engineer Giovanni Zinn.

Of the 50 or so community members that came out to celebrate the pier’s grand opening, most clustered in small groups along the pier following the press conference, gazing out at the sparkling water, breathing in the salt air and enjoying the slight breeze. Looney and Malloy tried their luck at casting with fishing rods.

"This is the kind of thing that helps makes communities whole, that gives them a sense of pride, a sense of connection," Looney said. "As you’ll see, there are more amenities, with that extended ‘T’ out there and other things that will make it a better place to fish and a better place to relax and just be with friends and family."

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