05/22/09 — Oak Island saves former Yaupon Pier

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Oak Island saves former Yaupon Pier

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on May 22, 2009 1:46 PM

The future of Yaupon Pier was once in jeopardy. Residents of the town of Oak Island, other parts of North Carolina and visitors from out-of-state were worried that it would suffer the same fate as Long Beach Pier, which was torn down several years ago to make room for oceanfront residential development as the result of a divorce proceeding.

The loss of Yaupon Pier would have left only one of the three island piers, Ocean Crest, in operation.

Yaupon Pier had been bought by a real estate development group, but became the subject of a business dispute, resulting in the ownership being passed to the bank that held the loan. The pier was auctioned with the town the successful bidder.

However, it was a divided town board that narrowly voted to buy the pier. The town received two grants totaling $800,000 toward the approximate $1.6 million purchase price and the town must pay the remainder. Meanwhile, the bank is accepting payments of $250 per month until the town secures a loan for the purchase.

The pier was officially renamed Oak Island Pier at a grand opening ceremony last weekend. The pier was open for fishing the previous Monday to the joy of those who had been banned from the pier for more than a year.

"I'm so glad it's open again," said Ben Carter. "It hurt my feelings when Yaupon Pier closed because it was the only pier I've ever fished."

Carter drove from Pilot Mountain to fish the pier with his grandson, 10-year-old Triston Parks, who reeled in a large whiting. Carter told Triston the whiting was a good-eating fish so he should put the fish in the cooler, not the bait tank.

Hundreds of people from all across the state gathered to celebrate the grand opening and share the free hot dog lunch. Mayor Johnie Vereen III gave a speech from a podium on the pier.

"This pier has always been a big part of my life," said Mayor Vereen. "The pier was built the year I was born. I've watched people fish and I've watched them bring their children and grandchildren to fish. It's an honor to have saved this pier for the citizens of Oak Island and North Carolina."

Although the pier's future appears to be securely in the hands of the public, a government agency is still reviewing the ability of the town to pay for the pier. Most citizens supported the council's decision to purchase the pier, but a strong group also opposed the purchase. The pier will be operated as a concession, with the former Long Beach Pier owner Tommy Thomes awarded the contract.

"It would have been a shame to lose another pier," said Thomas. "I've been in the pier business most of my life and I know how important it is to a beach town. It's the social center of the town. People come to fish, but they also come to walk out on the pier. It's one of the biggest reasons people visit or live at the beach."

Local resident John Pfaff was surprised when he learned that property tax money would not be used to pay for the pier. When Pfaff heard from Mayor Vereen that the pier would be purchased with grant money, occupancy taxes and donations, he donated $20 on the spot to North Carolina Public Access Foundation Inc. toward the organization's pier purchase effort.

Other citizens also made donations.

NCPAF, through its Dog Days Fishing Tournament last August and donations to its Website, www.ncpafonline.com, had already raised and donated $1,518.50 to the town's pier preservation fund. NCPAF chairman Mike Marsh handed Mayor Vereen another check in the amount of $100, which had been donated online by Henry Simpkins of Oak Island.

Town Council member Mary Snead thanked NCPAF for helping the town purchase the pier.

"Organizing citizens from the town and from all across the state of North Carolina made council members very aware of how much people valued our pier," said Snead. "We appreciate everything NCPAF has done to ensure the pier will be here for future generations to enjoy."