ST. PETE BEACH — Officials in this barrier island city know a bargain when they see one, so finding a replacement fishing pier that can double as a barge for special events, such as the Independence Day fireworks, definitely caught their attention.

During their Sept. 27 meeting, commissioners unanimously voted to allocate $184,856 to Repair Guy One for two fishing piers and gangways that will be installed at Egan Park. But the piers will be much more than a place to cast bait into the water. The structure will actually be two 14-by-30 feet aluminum floating docks that can also serve as a 60-foot floating barge.

Chief operating officer Jennifer McMahon told commissioners that the two docks currently at Egan Park have been condemned, because the wood is corroded and unsafe. When the city started to search for a viable replacement, the cost estimates were coming in at over $100,000.

She explained that at the same time staffers were looking to replace the docks, a search was also on to secure a barge for the July 4th fireworks. They found the cost to rent a barge for one night was around $24,000. In addition, staff was looking at installing paddleboard and kayak launches at McKenny and Egan parks.

“The city contacted a few of the barge companies to see if is possible to do some type of floating dock that you can launch from that can also serve as a barge for fireworks. It turns out all those things can be accomplished by putting in two 14-by-30 foot floating docks that serve as a barge,” McMahon told commissioners.

Under the plan the aluminum dock, with a wrap-around railing, it will get anchored by pilings at Egan Park. “We can then use it with a tow boat to do water maintenance on buoys, seawalls and use as a launch as well,” she said.

One important factor is that the barge will be large enough to use as a base to set off fireworks.

The docks will be made from marine-grade aluminum, and there is no issue with saltwater like there would be with a steel barge, she explained. The life expectancy of an aluminum barge is longer than a wooden dock, with the supplier guaranteeing 30 years.

City Manager Alex Rey added there is an opportunity to recoup some of the investment by renting out the barge to local hotels for several of their different activities. It’s just a matter of establishing a rental rate.

“It seems like it will be cost-effective in the long run,” said Commissioner Chris Gaus. “If we are able to lease it out to somebody from time to time and if we are able to do fireworks off it, and do seawall repair and little things like that, I think it would cover its cost.”

In another waterborne project, commissioners unanimously approved an agreement with PADL for the company to provide automated paddleboard/kayak kiosks on the beach and in county parks.

McMahon, who also serves as the city’s director of parks and recreation, told commissioners one of the city's strategic plan goals was to increase access to the water and to provide healthy activities. “PADL’s paddle-share component helps the city achieve some of that,” she said.

The PADL system uses GPS, 3G and self-locking technology that are opened and locked by users with an app, and the watercraft are tracked to provide for operations and maintenance.

Kayak and paddleboards are to be docked only in the racks provided by PADL. The only way to end the rental session is to return the kayak and paddle board to the original station. The city, at its own discretion, may support the kayak- and paddleboard-sharing program by requesting installation of additional docking stations.

McMahon said the rental service will be at no cost to the city. For each paddle rental, a 20% share of gross receipts net of sales tax will be provided to the city for use of park space. The four locations that will have paddle stations are McKenney Park, Egan Park, Upham Beach and Pass-A-Grille concessions. At a PADL station in Safety Harbor, the company charges customers $19 an hour for paddleboard rental.

Freebee envisioned citywide, in T.I.

The city has big plans to extend its Freebee service into the city’s northern neighborhoods, and even someday enter into a joint agreement to provide service into Treasure Island.

On Monday, commissioners agreed to spend $399,253 to renew its PSTA contract into 2022, but it hopes this will be the last year it has to incur such costs, which is a $32,000 increase compared to last year’s contract.

Rey reminded commissioners PSTA service includes the Central Avenue Trolley, Suncoast Trolley, and Route 90 buses, “of which half the money is for CAT service.”

“We’re hoping Bus Rapid Transit will replace the CAT service in this fiscal year, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. This will probably be the last year in which we continue the CAT service, and after that we will be down to half the cost to fund the Suncoast Trolley and Route 90 bus service,” he said.

He said this year’s cost increase is due to several factors, including PSTA entering into a new union contract this year.

The demand for DART services — demand response transportation for those who can’t use traditional buses — has also increased. In fiscal year 2021, DART service provided 495 trips requested by the residents of St. Pete Beach, which increased the service cost by $9,000.

He said he hopes Bus Rapid Transit rolls out in October 2022. “At that point we will roll out the full Freebee to the rest of the island,” Rey added.

The city will be eliminating the Central Avenue Trolley Service. “In a roundabout way, taking that money and putting into Freebee, and not having to pay for the BRT, puts us in a better position than we were in before,” Rey said.

BRT, which will operate express buses from downtown St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach, is a federally-funded project.

The city manager said Freebee is basically handling internal services. “If at some point we do an agreement with Treasure Island, in which we do reciprocal trips with them, that might work as well,” Rey said.