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GLOUCESTER CITY — When the refurbished Freedom Pier opened in December, it was the first time in more than 20 years the public could gain access to the quay.
“That’s because you had a few knuckleheads leaving a big mess and destroying property,” said Mayor William James.
“We spent over a million dollars fixing the place up and making it accessible to the public,” James said. “And initially we didn’t mind people going out there fishing. But then we had people leaving their cut-up bait and fish guts.
“They were stealing the bolts from the benches to use as weights. We had to take some action.”
At a July 26 council meeting, an ordinance was approved on first reading that would prohibit anglers from casting their lines into the Delaware River off the pier.
On a recent hot and humid morning, residents had differing opinions on whether the ban should go into effect.
“(The ban) makes sense and I agree with it,” said Bill Cook, as he and his dog Spud sat on a bench along the walkway between Freedom Pier and Proprietor’s Park Pier.
“You had underage kids drinking on Freedom Pier and people not cleaning up after themselves. It’s a shame because it was good to see the town finally doing something with (the pier),” added Cook. “It was a dilapidated garbage heap for years.
“But you have another pier right over there,” Cook said as he gestured toward Proprietor’s Park Pier. “There’s no difference. I’ve seen a 5-pound catfish from both piers. There’s no reason for anybody to complain about (the ban).”
Recently unemployed salesman Pete Donofrio had just pulled in his third catfish of the morning off Proprietor’s. A longtime fisherman who makes his own lures, the chatty angler said there is, indeed, a difference between the two piers.
“From (Proprietor’s) you have to know where to throw your line, otherwise you’ll lose it among the branches and other stuff down there.
“At Freedom you can fish from anywhere around the pier and you won’t hit anything. There are no snags there.”
Donofrio also blamed the “idiots” who have ruined a good thing for other townfolk.
“It had been opened for less than a year and some morons came out and tore the pier up. The kids obliterated it.”
James said plans are in the works for an Ott’s Restaurant to be built on Freedom Pier, and hopes to see it open sometime next year.
He added that if the ordinance does not pass, he’s looking for ideas on how to police the pier.
“Somebody’s going to have to come up with something if the fishing is allowed. I certainly can’t have a cop sitting out there all day watching people fish.
“We’ll see what happens” on Thursday, the former police officer said. “I’m sure we’ll get our share of public pressure. But it’s not what’s good for the few, it’s what’s good for the many.
“I love to fish, but you have to abide by the rules, respect property and police your own area.”