WEDNESDAY will be a proud day for everyone at Lerwick Port Authority when the largest single project the harbour has ever undertaken is officially opened by local MSP Tavish Scott.
Mair’s Pier, named after the herring station based at the site in the 19th and early 20th centuries, is going to be used predominantly by the local fishing industry, but it will also provide berthing space for oil supply vessels and cruise ships.
The £16.5 million investment forms part of a bold move by the port authority when it decided in 2014 to borrow £25 million from the Bank of Scotland to invest into three major projects.
They are Mair’s Pier, the Dales Voe pier upgrade for oil decommissioning work and the new fish market, which is likely to be built at Mair’s Yard next year.
Chief executive Sandra Laurenson said the port authority was always taking “the long-term view” on investments to keep the port ahead of the game.
“The driver for this investment was the ever increasing larger vessels that use the port from all sectors; from the fishing vessels with fleet renewal and now even larger pelagic trawlers, to offshore vessel which continue to expand and tend to have a deeper berth requirement and cruise ships,” she said.
“This part of Lerwick was seen as an area where we could provide substantial infrastructure in a key location as it provides shelter for the new fish market and gave us enough space around it to make it into a new fishing hub.
“The dock itself will be predominantly fishing vessel use, for pelagic layby, and we also provide shore power electricity connections for pelagic vessels to plug in.”
Work on the site began in autumn 2014 after designer and project manager Arch Henderson LLP secured all the relevant permissions and local civil engineering firm Tulloch Developments had been appointed as principal contractor.
The pier development created up to 15 new jobs at Tullochs, which had between 30 and 40 people working at the project – the largest the company had ever taken on. For a short time it was even the largest marine project in Scotland.
The new pier clearly impresses through its sheer size: 804 metres of berthing space with a water depth ultimately 10 metres along its 275 metre long outer face – as well as 365,000 tonnes of rock infill used to reclaim 1.5 hectares of quay space, finished off with 16,150 tonnes of concrete slab.
However, the real innovation lies out of view below the surface: using a risk-reducing method to drill and shock blast Shetland’s solid rock foundation in preparation for steel piling which eliminated the need for seabed tie rod installation that would have required high-risk diving operations, according to Andy Sandison, a partner with Arch Henderson.
“Pre-treatment consisted of shock blasting utilising a specialist low powered technique and concentrated on small area around proposed pile toe line to pulverise rock locally at approx. 1m drill centres and 3m to 7m below existing seabed level,” Sandison said.
Tulloch Developments director George Smith said all the work had been done from the surface.
He added: “You can’t drive steel piling into solid rock, you have to pre-treat it. You have to blast it in a certain manner to shatter the rock, and after blasting you have only a very limited timeline to drive the piles.
“It is a cost-effective method compared with other options.
“We got it to work at Mair’s Yard (the 1.45ha land reclamation project at the head of the new pier which became operational in 2013), which gave us the confidence that it could be done on a bigger scale
“We are always fairly positive about trying new things, and, ultimately, if we can get it to work, and it is the cheaper option, then it saves money for the client, and that usually results in more work because the clients can afford more projects. It is a win-win situation for everybody.”
The new pier was handed over to the port authority in December 2016 after a 110 metre-long section became operational as early as February that year.
The port authority is very pleased with the final product, and chief executive Laurenson feels the port has received “good value” for its money.
And in terms of building the planned fish market at Mair’s Yard, she said she was hopeful that an announcement would be made soon.
“There is a confidence and optimism in the fishing industry that I haven’t seen for years,” she added.
“Whatever happens with Brexit, there is still going to be plenty of fish in the sea, it is of good quality and we are at the right location.”
That view is very much echoed by local fishermen. Shetland Fishermen’s Association’s chief officer Simon Collins welcomed the new pier saying it comes at a good time for the industry.
“Against a backdrop of healthy fish stocks, and with the prospect of additional opportunities once our waters are restored to national control, the Shetland fleet is both modernising and training new entrants,” he said.
“The Mair’s Pier project is a great fit with these trends and demonstrates real confidence in the future of our industry.
“It is already proving its worth to our boats in terms of berthing and working space, and will underpin onshore development in the area.”