Mandeville’s Sunset Point reopens

Katie Houghton was rigging a few poles Saturday morning underneath the covered awning of the Mandeville fishing pier, when something caught her eye.

That’s because Houghton, who was preparing to fish with her nephews Brooks Houghton, 11, and Gabe Houghton, 7, noticed something very familiar written on a nearby piling running through the floor of the pier.

On that piling, she spied a few old scrawled names where she had set down in writing her nephews’ growth through the years. There were many other names on the same piling — remnants of a half-generation of Mandeville residents keeping a public record of their children’s vertical climb toward adulthood.

Houghton said she didn’t expect the same piling to be there on this visit to one of her favorite fishing spots. After all, the Mandeville fishing pier, and surrounding Sunset Point Park, just reopened at noon Friday. The entire Sunset Point facility had been shuttered since it was battered by Hurricane Isaac last August.

Isaac was only a Category 1 storm when it raged into the Mandeville lakefront, but the slow-moving storm created significant wave action on Lake Pontchartrain that dropped flooring, destroyed the pier’s handrails and downed nearby protective fencing. The park, and the pier, had been closed for nearly 10 months before Mandeville city officials reopened it to the public Friday.

Houghton was thrilled with the ability to return to the place she’s fished since the pier was first erected in April 2005.

“I’ve been fishing out here since then, and (my nephews) have been coming out here (just about as long),” Houghton said. “We drove by the construction site every day, and finally, I just asked one of the workers when it was going to open. I called City Hall and the lady was very friendly. It was around Memorial Day and she said about two more weeks. So here we are, and we’re very happy!”

The move to reopen the park and fishing pier was met with much excitement from Mandeville residents, and others from throughout the metro New Orleans area. As one of the few easily accessible fishing spots to non-boaters in water-drenched south Louisiana, the 400-foot pier was a hit from the day it opened.

The facility is located just east of where the causeway meets the north shore and has been a hot spot for anglers young and old. From a perch approximately 10 feet above the water, anglers could land the occasional speckled trout or redfish, along with a plethora of croaker, catfish and white trout.

The pier had been open for less than four months, however, when Hurricane Katrina bashed it in 2005. Sunset Point, and the pier, remained closed until 2007. When repaired, it quickly regained its “favored spot” status — that was until Isaac closed it again in August.

The latest rebuild of the pier cost approximately $343,000, with 75 percent of that total coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Mandeville picking up the rest of the tab. Cobalt Construction of Slidell completed the work, Public Works Director David deGeneres said.

deGeneres said his office had received numerous calls about the park and pier during the nearly 10-month stretch it was closed to the public.

“We have been getting a lot of calls,” deGeneres said. “We were hoping to have it open on the first of June, but we couldn’t get the lights up in time. But people have been champing at the bit. We’ve gotten calls all the way from Baton Rouge with people wanting to know when it was going to open.”

deGeneres said Sunset Point and the pier are welcome attractions for Mandeville.

“We think this will bring more people here and that’s what we want from a city standpoint,” he said. “It’s a plus for us (to have the park and pier reopen.)”

Gary Simon agrees. The Mandeville-area resident visited the pier Saturday morning with his wife, Catherine, and two of their grandchildren — Grant, 6, and Riley, 4. Simon said he didn’t have a chance to wet a line Saturday but was anxious to see how things looked at one of his favorite angling destinations.

He was pleased with what he saw.

“We came out all the time before Isaac with (Grant),” Simon said. “His daddy would come. I’m a regular out here. ... We’ll be coming back now that it’s open.

“It gives the kids and even the adults something to do.”

In other St. Tammany fishing news, the parish pier that opened south of Slidell last May remains closed. It, too, sustained heavy damage during Isaac. That pier, by latest parish estimates, is not expected to reopen until early 2014.

For information on the Mandeville fishing pier and Sunset Point Park, go online to www.cityofmandeville.com.