Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 23, 2015 3:00 p.m.

County resident Janet Miller appeals to both Nassau County and Fernandina Beach for help.
County resident Janet Miller appeals to both Nassau County and Fernandina Beach for help.

Everybody agrees there’s a problem, but nobody wants to assume responsibility (or the expense) to fix it.

Mallard Lane resident Morgan Thomas is also experiencing drainage and mosquito problems.
Mallard Lane resident Morgan Thomas is also experiencing drainage and mosquito problems.

Pheasant Lane resident Janet Miller’s land appears to be receding into a sinkhole on her neighbor’s property. Morgan Thomas, who lives nearby on Mallard Lane has a drainage problem that has led to water backing up to his deck and significant mosquito infestations. Both properties are located in the county, but both property owners believe that their problems have been caused by broken or inadequate drainage systems that were initially installed by the county but now lie under property that has been annexed into the city.

Miller appeared before the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) last month in an attempt to get her problem fixed. The city agrees that she has a problem—it’s just not the city’s problem. City Attorney Tammi Bach claims that when the city annexed the adjoining property, it never took responsibility for the underground sewer system. That system today serves both county and city property on Amelia Island. There is no existing easement either.

The city also commissioned a survey to assist in determining responsibility. The city’s insurance agent is also looking into Miller’s claim. But to date, the city has maintained that since the problem is on private property, and its development was permitted by the county, the city has no responsibility to fix the problem.

Miller brought her problem to the March 19, 2015 joint meeting of both the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the FBCC, apparently hoping that if she could get all the parties in one room at the same time, she might get her problem resolved. That did not happen.

County Manager Ted Selby said that there is no legal way for the county to work on private property. County Attorney Mike Mullin disagreed with City Attorney Bach’s position that the city did not take over responsibility for underground infrastructure when it annexed the property that appears to be the source of the problem. Mullin added that under laws governing annexation, the city had the opportunity to notify the county at the time (2007-2008) of any existing infrastructure deficiencies, but it did not. He said that the court system may be the only way to address the problem.

County Commissioner Danny Leeper acknowledged that the existing situation presents a health and safety hazard for Miller and her neighbors, estimating that currently her property abuts a 30-foot hole.

City Commissioner Tim Poynter said that the houses in the area were built under county, not city rules. City Commissioner Robin Lentz said that in consultation with the St. Johns River Water Management District, the city had discovered that permits had never been pulled for constructing a drainage system when the county owned the property.

City Attorney Tammi Bach reminded Miller that she had filed a lawsuit that resulted in a settlement on this matter several years ago.

Miller has met individually with representatives of the city, the county and the St. John’s River Water Management District over this matter. She has gone to Ken Amaro on Jacksonville TV Station 12 for help.

The upshot of Miller’s latest attempt to seek relief is that attorneys for both the city and the county have agreed to jointly examine the problem again. Stay tuned.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_31047)
7 years ago

City and county Commissioners, Just do the right thing and repair the drain pipe and fill in the sink hole. Split the Equipment utilization and the cost of the repairs. Why do we always have to do every thing the hard way? I’m pretty certain the pipe is exposed, repair it and divert a few truck loads of dredged material from the Marina to fill the hole.Stop litigating everything and just do it.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_31052)
7 years ago

Not as easy as it seems Steve. A very slippery slope when a government agency comes onto private property when there is no recorded easement. The dredge material is not suitable for fill without a dewatering time of at least six months. As the City Attorney pointed out, Ms. Miller already reached a settlement and now appears again. Not sure who that settlement was with but you usually only get one chance at the table.

Randy McGee
Randy McGee (@guest_31058)
7 years ago

So, if insurance will pay, then the work will be done?…Sorry about all your slippery slopes but that is all bs. It comes down to money..period. Not who, what, when, where or how, just frackin money. The same podunk governments that will be quick to sell a tax deed for non payment of taxes doesn’t want to help a taxpayer. Being in politics doesn’t mean that is a neo aristocratic elitism that rules from a position of afar. It is actually suppose to be “for the people, by the people.” Stop the talk, do what is right, fix the problem.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_31098)
7 years ago

Dave Lott makes a good point. “Doing what is right” sometimes means consideration of technical issues involved and unintended future consequences – as well as past actions of the parties.

Randy McGee
Randy McGee (@guest_31104)
7 years ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

“consideration of technical issues involved and unintended future consequences – as well as past actions of the parties.”

That is exactly what is being asked to be fixed by the governing tax collectors of the kingdom………….what somebody did in the past that is now affecting today. What is so hard about this, again, if it was a City Managers property, or another city or county official, it would of been taken care of already. the “it is who you know” program…

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_31109)
7 years ago
Reply to  Randy McGee

Randy – Respectfully, what happens when faith in the processes and integrity of good, civil government is lost? It’s not always about me, and outcomes don’t always fall our subjective way – although we certainly try to make them do so.

Randy McGee
Randy McGee (@guest_31256)
7 years ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

You have to be kidding…

This is not about taking peoples homes and “private” property for right of ways, roads, utilities…it is taking care of something the local government has caused and just doesn’t want to pay for the repairs. So if you want to take the position of piety, then I guess that is your right. Guess “you can’t fight City Hall” is really a true statement.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_31148)
7 years ago

I just had a conscience problem with what I just said, above – my apology. Let’s fix it and get on with it.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_31182)
7 years ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

Understand fully Robert. I didn’t know where to begin to address the original statement. As West Wing President Jeb Bartlett used to say when it was time to address the next topic, “What’s next?”

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_31162)
7 years ago

Robert, Your last post was so Cool. Like a Canadian comic, Red Green said at the end of each show “Remember folks, We’re all in this Together.”Just fix it.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_31163)
7 years ago
Reply to  Steve Crounse

Steve – Exactly.

Jim Roberts
Jim Roberts (@guest_31397)
7 years ago

It sounds like there is a problem related to drainage of some sort on and around this property.. Not determined yet. And we have one woman fighting city hall. She is between a rock and a hard place. County/City. Fact is: Under “city initiated annexations”, a municipality can annex if the area is developed to certain levels under “state law annexation”. And if the municipality can show that it can provide muni services to the property owners in the area. However, the property is still in the County, even though annexed into the city as it pays taxes to both city and county. The problem is that both city and county have a responsibility here and they are playing one against the other and the property owner is caught in the middle with nothing being done. The next step is to allow the courts to rule on it. And again, city counsel will cost us.

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