By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Miles and miles of picturesque views of the Great Egg Harbor Inlet unfold from the fishing pier of the Ocean City-Longport Bridge.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” fisherman Sammy Alili said of the scenery while casting his line in the bay waters Tuesday afternoon.
The view of the fishing pier itself, though, is not so alluring. The wood railings appear rotted in places, benches have holes in them, trash cans are deteriorated and even the pier’s concrete deck is dingy.
Recognizing that a makeover is needed, the public agency that operates the Ocean City-Longport Bridge is planning to give the fishing pier an overhaul to make it more inviting to anglers and visitors.
New railings, benches, trash cans and fencing are part of the facelift, according to the Cape May County Bridge Commission.
“The purpose of this project is to address upkeep and maintenance of the fishing pier and, yes, the appearance of the pier will also benefit with the updates,” Antonio Colon, project manager for the bridge commission, said in an email Tuesday.
Colon explained that the project is still is in the preliminary engineering phase. The cost and timetable for doing the improvements have not yet been determined.
The fishing pier was created when the new Ocean City-Longport Bridge opened in 2002. A 500-foot section of the demolished old bridge was saved on the Egg Harbor Township side of the Great Egg Harbor Inlet for the pier.
During the busy summer tourism season, the pier is popular with anglers as well as sightseers who savor the panoramic views of the bay, marshlands and wildlife.
Alili, who lives in Egg Harbor Township, said he often comes to the pier to catch flounder, stripers and blackfish. On Tuesday, he caught a sea bass but released it because it was too small to keep.
“Everyone wants to fish and enjoy the views. Other than the fishing, people come here for peace of mind. It’s a beautiful spot,” Alili said of the pier’s appeal.
At the same time, he pointed out that parts of the pier are deteriorated, particularly the wood railing that runs the length of the structure. He was happy to hear of plans by the bridge commission to install new railings.
“You might as well replace them with new railings that aren’t rotted,” he said. “Everybody tries to keep this place clean, but it’s deteriorated.”
In addition to aesthetic improvements to the pier, the bridge commission has given approval to the Ocean City Beach Patrol to install “no swimming” signs near the bridge that warn of the Great Egg Harbor Inlet’s strong currents.
The “Dangerous Currents … No Wading, No Swimming” signs have been approved for next to the support piers under the bridge, near the water and the pathways to the beach.
Lewis Donofrio, the bridge commission’s chief engineer, said in an October report to the agency’s board members that the Ocean City Beach Patrol wants to prevent people from jumping into the water from the bridge piers or swimming in the inlet.
“The closest lifeguard stand is over 1,800 meters from the base of the bridge. On average there are 1-2 calls per week for a swimmer in distress that originates from the base of the bridge,” Donofrio wrote in his report. “People do not realize how strong the current is in this area and get caught in the current on an outgoing tide.”
At least two drownings have occurred near the bridge in recent years, showing just how treacherous the inlet may be to swimmers, surf fishermen or crabbers who venture into the water.
A Clementon, N.J., man who went swimming after hours in the inlet drowned on July 12, 2020. The body of Jabed Ikbal, 24, was found by a fisherman in the inlet six days later.
Samuel DeLarso, 53, of Somers Point, went crabbing for bait on Oct. 20, 2018, on the Ocean City side of the inlet. His body was never recovered.
Those tragedies underscore the reasons why the Ocean City Beach Patrol is looking to improve safety by having the new “Dangerous Currents” signs installed near the bridge to keep swimmers out of the inlet.