Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
Despite concerns raised by Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) voted 4-1 to move forward to construct a new boardwalk at Main Beach during its August 20, 2013 meeting. The first phase will replace the portion of the existing boardwalk generally between the parking lot and the second gazebo to the north with an elevated boardwalk about 30 feet west of the current one. The portion to be replaced will be removed.
The FBCC awarded the bid for this project (#13-06) to the lowest qualified bid received from among five respondents. BNC, Inc., the successful bidder, is based in Middleburg, FL, and has successfully completed dune walkovers in St. Augustine Beach in addition to building boardwalks in Fort Clinch State Park and Atlantic Beach. Their initial bid in the amount of $151,400 was further reduced by $4,547 when the City Maintenance Division agreed to perform demolition of the existing boardwalk portions.
City commissioners, staff and citizens have voiced concerns over the safety and viability of the existing boardwalk for at least nine years. The boardwalk dates to the 1980’s, and current state environmental rules have complicated efforts to repair and retain the existing boardwalk. While the state has said that repairs can be made, the existing runners, to which the planks are nailed, have deteriorated to the point that they have become sponge-like. Also, since the existing boardwalk has now become part of the dune structure, the state will not allow replacement of the boardwalk in its current location.
During the discussion that preceded the vote, Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett expressed his dissatisfaction with the proposed plan, which places the new boardwalk about 30 feet westward of the existing one. “My question,” he said in addressing Nan Voit, the city’s Director of Parks and Recreation, “is can you see the ocean from there?” Corbett went on to claim that the new, elevated boardwalk would become a “sand dune bridge,” impeding ocean views for senior citizens, whom he characterized as the primary users of the boardwalk. He expressed his opinion that the existing boardwalk was serviceable and that the only repair work necessary involved the gazebo roofs. He also said that by moving the boardwalk westward, the dune would move westward along with it.
Nan Voit disagreed with Corbett, saying that the city was not just dealing with the gazebos. She said that the existing boardwalk is being taken over by the growth of the dune, and that by moving the boardwalk west and elevating it slightly, the dune will develop further northward.
Corbett again asked, “My question is can you see the ocean from there?”
A seemingly aggravated Voit responded that she could not answer because the new boardwalk has not been built. She retorted, “Do we want to provide a safe structure?”
Corbett quickly responded, “I want people to be able to see the ocean.”
Commissioner Boner jumped into the discussion, agreeing with Corbett. “I’ve lived here my entire life. I’ve watched 2 rows of dunes grow,” he said. “ If we move the boardwalk, the dune will move back as well.” He claimed that one of the reasons the dune was encroaching the boardwalk is that the boardwalk is not being maintained.
Mayor Sarah Pelican took issue with that statement, as did Voit, who reminded commissioners that five of the maintenance positions have been eliminated. She also cited what will be a 2-foot gap under the new boardwalk that will help minimize the effect of dune migration.
Corbett was not reassured. He said, ‘The Sand Dune Nazis in Tallahassee will cause us to give up beach area. I don’t think we need to give them 30 feet of the park. In my opinion, the only thing wrong is the gazebos. [We would be] spending money to give the park away to the Sand Dune Nazis.”
City Manager Joe Gerrity cautiously entered the discussion. He asserted that it is only a matter of time before the existing boardwalk has to come out. He concurred with Voit that the stringers have rotted away, and there is nothing to nail planks to. “It will have to be torn up at some point,” he said. “[Florida Department of Environmental Protection] will force action at some time.”
Corbett responded, “Soon we’ll have a boardwalk back at Egan’s Creek.”
Local beach advocate and environmental activist Len Kreger asked to be recognized. Addressing his remarks to Corbett, he said, “I’m out there [on the boardwalk] every day. There are lots more than senior citizens out there.” Corbett again began speaking at which time Kreger interrupted him, saying, “Can I speak please? Since 2004 we have been trying to rebuild this boardwalk. We are all about beach. But we’ve got a boardwalk that is junk. You can say it’s structurally sound, but there are boards coming up. It’s terrible. There are people in wheelchairs there. We want it fixed for our citizens and tourists. We want the dunes to develop to protect us from sea level rise. To not build this new boardwalk is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. To ignore this prime piece of property that we brag about to deteriorate is criminal.” He looked directly at Corbett and added, “ Yeah I’m talking that way, just to you. I go out there 2-3 times a day and I don’t see you out there. Maybe you should take the name Beach out of the city’s name and go back to the way it was. “
Corbett shot back, “Maybe we will.”http://
Commissioner Pat Gass finally got to speak. She asked that if the measure passes, the city commission be provided with a maintenance plan so that the new boardwalk does not get to the state of the existing one. Commissioner Arlene Filkoff asked Voit the age of the existing boardwalk. Voit said she thought it dated to the 1980’s.
When the vote was finally taken, only Corbett opposed the motion.
Parks and Recreation Director Nan Voit has indicated that BNC will begin mobilizing for Phase I of the new boardwalk on September 3, 2013. Funding for additional sections of the boardwalk will be tackled in future fiscal years. The plans for the boardwalk may be found on the city’s website by entering ‘main beach boardwalk’ in the search field.
August 26, 2013 1:00 a.m.