Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 16, 2015 6:08 p.m.

Representative Janet Adkins Fernandina Beach Office conference room, overflowing with people concerned about the port.
Representative Janet Adkins Fernandina Beach Office conference room, overflowing with people concerned about the port.
Representative Janet Adkins
Representative Janet Adkins

While 9:00 a.m. on a Thursday morning might not be the ideal time for a telephonic Town Hall meeting, it was the only time State Representative Janet Adkins had available during the current legislative session to listen to constituent concerns and fears arising from recent actions of the Nassau County Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) with respect to its charter, elections, master plan and what has appeared to many local residents to be a callous disregard for their opinions and concerns about the potential impact of Port of Fernandina operations on island roads and wetlands, the surrounding aquatic preserve, neighboring residential properties and the island’s booming tourism industry.

In opening the meeting on speakerphone from Tallahassee, Adkins apologized to the 25 people assembled in her district office in Fernandina Beach for not being able to meet in person, citing the press of legislative work in the state capital. Indeed, audience members could hear the announcements of Quorum Calls over the speakerphone as the meeting came to a close. With Adkins in Tallahassee were her legislative aide, Jim Adams; Senator Aaron Bean’s legislative aide, Dee Alexander; and Mike Rubin, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the Florida Ports Council.

Adkins thanked those in attendance in Fernandina Beach, singling out Phil Scanlan for his work in providing her with detailed written information. She summarized the concerns as she saw them to be centered on elements included in the OHPA master plan and communications issues between the OHPA and the community. She asked the 12 people who had signed up to speak  to address these issues and any others that they identified.

Speakers Medardo Monzon  (seated, left) and Phil Scanlan (seated, right)
Speakers Medardo Monzon (seated, left) and Phil Scanlan (seated, right)

Local activist Phil Scanlan spoke first. Working from a detailed position paper which he had prepared, he stated that it is important that the state get involved in the current port imbroglio and that it is important that the port plan approval process does not bypass the city of Fernandina Beach, where the port is located. He stressed that the master plan document is the problem, not the Port of Fernandina itself. Citing citizen fears and objections to hazardous materials and truck traffic called for in the OHPA master plan, Scanlan reminded everyone present that the OHPA should understand these concerns and recognize that the state intends that the city protect the island in the event of storms or other catastrophes that threaten lives, property and the environment. Scanlan said that the OHPA needs executive oversight and management at the state level. By their charter, he said, the OHPA is to serve the citizens, county and state. He said that there has been a shift in the local economy from heavy industry to tourism and real estate sales. Blount Island, which is only 30 miles south of Fernandina Beach, is equipped to handle hazardous materials and heavier volumes of shipping than the Port of Fernandina.

Steve Crounse spoke next, raising concerns about the safety of shipping and handling increased tonnage of petroleum products through the Port of Fernandina. He said, “In 2017, a 600% increase over 2012 figures has been projected.” He cited Kinder Morgan’s completion of the Palmetto Pipeline through Nassau County in July 2017. He raised safety concerns involved in transporting products by truck and rail, citing serious accidents that have occurred in other communities. Adkins summed up his concerns as centering on both increased tonnage and flammability of the products being shipped.

Medardo Monzon also reinforced that the characterization of those who oppose the port master plan as being “anti-port” is far removed from the truth. He stressed the importance of the port to the well-being of the community. His criticism centered around OHPA deficiencies in governance issues, specifically: local community integration and support; effective management; stable and predictable governance/management structures. He said, “Ms. Adkins, what our community is facing right now is a new level of insanity: we have illegally elected OHPA Commissioners not only openly challenging the community and local government, but also threatening to sue legally elected officials to enforce a master plan that neither this community nor the majority of [Fernandina Beach] city commissioners endorse. Citizens are scared about these developments and are losing faith in the democratic institutions …” He called for a longer, more convenient town meeting so that Adkins could judge the frustration level in the community. He asked Adkins to prompt a state investigation into governance and management of the OHPA and to suspend HB 1201, which authorizes partisan elections for OHPA commissioners.

Tom Cote-Merow spoke to a “power play” by the OHPA. He objected to what he characterized as bullying the community to accept more biohazards and flammable substances for transport through the Port of Fernandina. He said, “The port will not be the determiner of the future of Fernandina and Nassau County. Folks here have worked too long and hard to allow Kinder Morgan or others to “determine the future” of our infrastructure or economy! If it takes revolutionary measures and a closing down entirely of this port facility then so be it. We will protect our way of life into the future.”

Representative Adkins and Michael Harrison in Tallahassee during one of Harrison's trips to lobby against HB1201.
Representative Adkins and Michael Harrison in Tallahassee during one of Harrison’s trips to lobby against HB1201.

Michael Harrison, who has met with Representative Adkins in Tallahassee on port concerns, asked if OHPA is really in charge of the port and Kinder Morgan. He said that the port master plan was not fully vetted, and is more a laundry list compiled by a consultant who cut and pasted from other plans. This is compounded, Harrison said, by the Port Attorney who says, “We can do what we want.” He said the evidence that the OHPA is not in control is clear from the fact that OHPA did not know that Kinder Morgan had requested a permit to handle coal last year and that they did not know before the public did that Kinder Morgan was laying off a third of its workers locally. He also asked Adkins to withdraw HB 1201, which he said only served to add extra fuel to the fire of public opinion and look at the real issues. He called for a legislative investigation into the OHPA.

Faith Ross said that the “illegal elections” are symptomatic of OHPA trust problems with the community. She suggested that perhaps a solution is to provide more representation on the OHPA for Fernandina Beach, since the port is physically located in the city; or to create two special districts: one for the island and another for the county mainland. She said that although we want to attract high tech, high wage jobs, they depend on clean water. She said that the bottom line is that “OHPA commissioners don’t understand us and we don’t understand them.”

Around the conference table from left:  Laura Dibella,  Faith Ross, Steve Crounse, Guy Petty, Medardo Monzon
Around the conference table from left: Laura Dibella, Faith Ross, Steve Crounse, Guy Petty, Medardo Monzon

Other speakers reinforced community fears about hazardous materials, the arrogance of port spokesmen, the lack of respect shown to the Historic District and its residents, and the need to ratchet down the rhetoric in order to solve the problems.

OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood said that he would not spend time arguing or refuting comments. He said that the OHPA has repeatedly offered the public the opportunity to bring their concerns to them at their regular monthly meetings. He said that speaking for himself, he is willing to remove the idea of building an oil refinery from the master plan. Adkins asked, “Can we just take that out of the plan?” Fullwood said he would be willing to execute a separate document promising not to pursue agreed upon activities for ten years, if other commissioners and their attorney would agree. He said, “Then we’ll include the people in formulating the next plan.”

Adkins said that what she was hearing was a lot of fear and anger at the process used to develop the current plan. She said she understood that while the objectionable activities were likely not to happen, the fact that they are in writing in a formally adopted plan is nor reassuring. She said, “We can look at legislation to solve the problem, but it is paramount to include the people.”

Laura Dibella thanked Adkins for holding the meeting. She said that she understands that people do not want heavy industry coming to the island. She said that in her position as county economic development director, she sees the current ill will hurting her ability to attract business to the county. She said that businesses looking at the county as a possible location for their operations don’t distinguish between the island and the rest of the county. But when they see the anger and inability to work together between citizens and an elected body, they become leery about locating to such a community. She said, “We need to be civil. I beg you, let’s be civil moving forward. The island is also a draw for other economic development.”

OHPA Chair Richard Bruce limited his comments in the interest of time. He told Adkins, “Our job is to get answers to the citizens, and we will do that.”

Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Johnny Miller is flanked by Guy Petty and Phil Scanlan.
Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Johnny Miller is flanked by Guy Petty and Phil Scanlan.

Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Johnny Miller thanked Adkins for holding the meeting and said that it was important for him to be able to see the citizens express their concerns to her. He said that one of the problems currently is the meeting times for the OHPA and city Planning Advisory Board (PAB), which is charged to review and recommend to the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) on matters affecting the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Both boards meet on the afternoon/evening of the same day each month, making attendance at both problematic for everyone. He said that in looking over the history of the port he recognized that everyone had worked hard to establish the Port of Fernandina, and now there is an adversarial relationship caused by a lack of trust. He suggested that the best move would be to scrap the master plan and start over with citizen participation. He also said, “We are not an anti-industry town.”

Mike Rubin, VP of Governmental Affairs, Florida Ports Council
Mike Rubin, VP of Governmental Affairs, Florida Ports Council

Adkins asked Mike Rubin to address some of the concerns raised. He said that the master plan speaks to a 20-year vision, and that he was not sure where the notion that the plan cannot be amended has originated. Some master plans in the state have been amended more than once within a 5-year period. He said if the community is not comfortable with something in the plan, it should be removed. He said that a port master plan must be consistent with a local government’s Comprehensive Plan and the state’s environmental plan. He added, “We would not allocate funds to a port if its plan was inconsistent with either plan.”

After 50 minutes Adkins attempted to summarize and provide direction. She said that the main challenge was to restore trust and public confidence. She asked under what circumstances the master plan can be modified and asked the local parties to work on changing the OHPA and PAB meeting schedules so that they do not conflict. She asked for a follow up meeting and said that while she can ask for an Attorney General’s opinion on modifying the port master plan, she would prefer for the local parties to work out a resolution. Rubin added to the OHPA members, “It’s your plan, you can amend it any time.”

Adkins ended the meeting by thanking everyone. She said, “We are harming the community with protracted disagreements. We are all here to find solutions.”  Adkins did not address calls to withdraw HB1201, amending the OHPA charter to make commission elections partisan, reflecting the status quo as opposed to the legal language in the charter.

After the meeting, Phil Scanlan volunteered to compile a list of citizen concerns with the master plan that would indicate what the community would like to strike from the plan for Representative Adkins. He agreed to involve all meeting participants in reviewing the list and expressed an intent to have it delivered to the OHPA in early May so that it may be discussed at their May 13 Regular Meeting.

OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood expressed his desire to work with the community. OHPA Chair Richard Bruce, however, sounded more exasperated. He said, “It’s hard to see the greatest economic opportunity [the port] spurned when it’s something that would benefit the entire county. We will get it done. You will get all the answers you need, not rumors. We must get along together. Quit vilifying and start verifying!” His remarks led to puzzled looks from the audience, who seemed to feel more positive about achieving resolution with Adkins’ input.

Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Miller remarked after the meeting, “This is an important issue for Nassau County, too. Where have the county commissioners been during all these meetings on the port master plan?”

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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kinney leonard
kinney leonard (@guest_32696)
7 years ago

Im sorry, i just dont understand why residents of this island simply cannot get along. Its not just this. Its every issue. I know that this comment may not be politically correct but On this island , it seems, there are too many chiefs and not enough indians.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_32710)
7 years ago
Reply to  kinney leonard

It’s called small town politics. While the disputes get a lot of attention as that is what sells news; but you don’t have to look very far to see all the wonderful things that happen in this community through the support of the vast majority.

Faith Ross
Faith Ross (@guest_32767)
7 years ago
Reply to  kinney leonard

I agree with Mrs. Hunter. There was a tremendous amount of effort on the part of citizens to bring the proposed industrial uses to the agenda of the City. And they are to be congratulated. I was also proud of Ms. Dibella in stating at the Round Table that she ”got it”. We don’t want heavy industry here. That does not mean that heavy industry could not occur elsewhere in Nassau County. A simple explanation to prospective businesses is that Amelia Island is tourist oriented. The rest of Nassau County, and rightfully so, is hungry for industry. And we are not anti-business. And I want to thank Port Commissioner Danny Fullwood for being able to say that he would work with the City. I think he knows that the citizens would like to work with him on marketing a “clean water” agenda needed to attract high-tech manufacturing. Those types of businesses require stable, clean water supplies.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_32698)
7 years ago

This meeting was without a doubt the most productive dialog between the Nassau County Ocean highway & Port Authority and Concerns of this Communities Citizens. While it was a tele-conference round table with Rep. Adkins, she was able to bring the power of her office and the insight of Mr.Mike Rubin,VP. of Government affairs, Florida Port Council. Mr. Rubin telling all that, the OHPA can modify The Port Master Plan any time, and that without community buy in to Port plans there would be no funding coming from the Florida Port Council for any development. This was a huge shot in the arm to all local citizens. Commissioner Fullwood took the lead for the OHPA Commissioners at this meeting. Telling the folks attending, that he is open to modifying the Master plan to meet the needs of the City. That he has been in the community since 1947 and would work with us. What a breath of fresh air. It was a positive start to building a workable solution to the port issues. Oh yea, Mr. Davis was not in attendance, just saying!

chuck hall
chuck hall (@guest_32704)
7 years ago

The Master Plan CAN be amended? Wow that is news…..we have been told by OHPA, that it was a ‘recipe book’ and was ‘required by the State’…now we are hearing FROM the State that it can be amended.
We understand now that the ports are required to comply with local municipalities, but we were told that OHPA will just do what it wants without the City’s approval.
Kinda confusing….

Bob Weintraub
Bob Weintraub(@rukbat23gmail-com)
7 years ago
Reply to  chuck hall

Chuck, Clyde Davis has a way of doing that. His approach is to take no prisoners and doesn’t understand the value of compromise.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_32787)
7 years ago
Reply to  Bob Weintraub

Just an aside to this whole issue, Just read in the News Leader that the Ocean,Highway and Port authority Commission will start using ” Roberts Rules of Order” during commission meeting.? WHAT? They have been meeting since 1986. I’ve served on a bunch of Committees, Commissions, Associations etc. Always run under RRofO. Better late than never.
Commissioner Bruce and Clyde Davis are also concerned about civility during the OHPA committee meetings. Seems the locals get out of hand at times. Commissioner Bruce has made a proclamation asking for “civility, courtesy, and mutual respect for all’. All positive moves for a more productive meeting. Lawyer Davis, seconds those statements, Saying ” We are all responsible for our behavior.” My own feeling is Mr. Davis should hang out another shingle, besides Barrister,and Historian. To announce: The Clyde Davis School of Civility and Decorum.

Len Kreger
Len Kreger (@guest_32707)
7 years ago

A PAB meeting generally has very few people attending. Our recent Port Master Plan meeting did have significant attendance. These meeting took place after the port master plan was developed and approved by the OH&PA. With the exceptions of a few meeting during the review process there has not been a problem with meeting on the day.

The PAB DID not recommend approval of the Plan. But, I think that failure to address the current State Statute 619 of 2005 provisions in the discussion is a problem. The OH&PA Master Plan in many cases quoted the authority in the State Statue..

Of course they can revise their master plan and I believe they should.

The anti industry issue is a problem, we can say we are not, but it may not be the opinion of industry.

Faith Ross
Faith Ross (@guest_32780)
7 years ago
Reply to  Len Kreger

Mr. Kreger, there was a lovely woman at the PAB meeting who said she was new and this was “all very confusing”. I think many of us felt that way. According to Florida statutes the Board is tasked to find if the text amendments are consistent with the Comprehensive Plan or are they not? No decision was made as to their compliance. And Ms. Bach at the previous meeting stated that the PAB’s biggest liability was “the Process”. Yet at the end of the most recent meeting she stated that she wanted to be “clear that there was nothing wrong with the process’. Would it help in the future for the PAB to adopt a check list of items that are required or a criteria for each applicant so that some poor business doesn’t walk in, get “approval” for what (?), then someone sues to have the business use removed because we don’t follow the law? Perhaps a cut and paste of necessary legal statements needs to be adopted to make us compliant with state statutes?

Len Kreger
Len Kreger (@guest_32783)
7 years ago
Reply to  Faith Ross

Faith your are correct the motion for approval should have stated the Comprehensive plan consistency issue. During all the meeting and discussions there was significant reference to the consistency with comprehensive plan as required. Much of the written correspondence also addressed the issue in detail . Some believe the application was consistence and other not. As you the Comp Plan is a general plan, thus you could justify either position.

The Commission will review all the data and determine to support the PAB recommendation or not.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_32709)
7 years ago

Thanks for the timely and detailed report Suanne. Credit to Rep. Adkins for her willingness to listen and to cut to the heart of the matter. Thanks to all those who took the time to attend the meeting and write in. Let us remember that “What the state legislature gives in the way of the Port charter, the state legislature can take away”.
Many of the speakers captured the key issue and that is the lack of oversight of OHPA over Kinder Morgan. Not knowing about the major actions planned and executed over the last six months by KM is inexcusable in my opinion. Hopefully there will be increased attention as well as a willingness to listen to the community.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_32713)
7 years ago

Len, Nassau County has a Place zoned for Heavy Industry. 1,800 acres called Crawford Diamond. I don’t feel that anybody in this small section of Nassau County, called Amelia Island has an Issue with heavy Industry out there. Perhaps there are a few “Luddites” that object, but not many. I’m sure most people in this community will embrace clean Industry. Industry that’s compatible with are emerging Tourist / Convention Industry. Movie / Media Studios, Micro- breweries, electronic stuff. If our community stance on Heavy Industry ie. Fossil fuel Terminals, Refineries, Fertilizer Manufactures or Storage of vast amounts of Coal. I’m going to be the first dude to raise my hand and say “We Don’t Want You On Our Island”. Ms. Dibella needs to separate the needs of our County,and the needs of this small section of Nassau County called Amelia Island for appropriateness of types of business’s . This battle over the issues of our Port goes back to a piece of paper penned in 1941 called the Nassau County Ocean,Highway and Port Authority Charter. This was written when the biggest Industry on this Island was a Fertilizer Plant, using madden fish on the Amelia river. Atlantic Blvd was dirt and sand, there was a wooden bridge to the main land. and the south end of this Island was owned by a chemical company that was going to strip mine for Phosphorous. That’s where the Omni plantation sits today. Times change. We need to change with them. Note, This history lesson was not brought to you by professor Davis

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_32746)
7 years ago
Reply to  Suanne Thamm

Suanne, Thanks for the corrections on the mining operations on the south end of the Island. ( Titanium vs. phosphorous) But I hope, everyone gets my point. this OHPA charter was written 3/4 of a century age in a much different time in our History. So everyone on the Island, who wants to replace the Omni Plantation Resort with a Titanium mining operation and processing plant, Please raise your hand. Anyone?

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_32736)
7 years ago

Excellent report. Excellent comments. Let’s hope that Ms Adkins takes them to heart – and that Arron Bean is listening – while there is time left in this legislative session. Most of the time I agree with Dave Lott, but in this case, he knows this issue is bigger than “small town politics”. Crawford Diamond and Blount Island offer appropriate and workable solutions for everyone – except Kinder Morgan that apparently wants it’s own private port. (As an aside here, would hate to see what would might happen should Kinder Morgan buy out Rock Tenn). Modification of the Port’s Master Plan needs to be undertaken. Ms. Dibella needs to do some homework.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_32752)
7 years ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

Robert, my response to Kinney was intended as a general response to the overall situation of having warring factions on every issue. From my posts here and elsewhere I certainly agree the port issue is a major one that will impact the quality of life in FB and on the island.

Mrs. D Hunter
Mrs. D Hunter (@guest_32747)
7 years ago

Mrs. Thamm, fellow commenters in this forum, the Observer, those who were sitting at/standing around that table and members of this vibrant community: thank you for your dogged persistence, thank you for being thorns in the sides of these elected officials. This meeting came about because of you, the concessions came about because of you, your miles logged, your hours spent, the deep intelligence and sincerity of your approach with these elected officials, you are what “sells” this community, thank you.

Bob Weintraub
Bob Weintraub(@rukbat23gmail-com)
7 years ago

Good reporting job by Susan!
Steve Crounse makes an important point that I was unable to get across to the previous development promoter Steve Reich — there is a difference between clean industry and dirty industry. Scientific and medical research would do well here. Laura Debella needs to understand that.

Suzanne Dixon
Suzanne Dixon (@guest_32775)
7 years ago

Our Comprehensive Plan needs to be reviewed and updated now to protect our dense residential community, before proposed uses come before the planning commission, to avoid the appearance of spot zoning. These uses proposed by the Port Authority have no place in an area that can’t provide for important setbacks for our safety and health. Resident’s property rights should be preserved against excessive noise, lights and traffic. I’m tired of hearing about industries’ rights weighed over my resident rights. There are other places more suitable to the Port’s proposed activities.

Faith Ross
Faith Ross (@guest_32819)
7 years ago
Reply to  Suzanne Dixon

Suzanne, believe it or not our PRESENT Comprehensive Plan DOES have the language in it to prohibit uses that create glare, noise, traffic, etc. But for some reason some members of our local Planning Advisory Board cannot seem to vote for the implementation of code to implement this policy. In fact, it states that a petroleum refinery is prohibited in our Comprehensive Plan. Yet, again, for some reason, our local Planning Advisory Board can not get a vote together to enact it into our land code. It does make citizens wonder why this is so difficult. Why???

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x