Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 23, 2015 3:00 p.m.
Everybody agrees there’s a problem, but nobody wants to assume responsibility (or the expense) to fix it.
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.
Editor’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.