Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 21, 2015 7:30 p.m.
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) delivered one proclamation and listened to three presentations at its Regular Meeting held on May 19, 2015. Additionally, two members of the public thanked the city for assistance, and another advised on Fire Department issues.
Recognition of Brandon Drakus
At the request of Vice Mayor Johnny Miller, the FBCC recognized Brandon Drakus for his valuable contributions to the City of Fernandina Beach in providing litter control, trash pickup and janitorial services at City and County beach accesses and public restroom facilities. Mayor Ed Boner delivered the proclamation recognizing that Drakus since 2009 has volunteered countless hours and donated many acts of kindness while performing janitorial services to keep beach areas clean. Miller specifically commended Drakus for his compassion in dealing with the homeless, who must use city facilities to tend to basic hygiene needs. Mayor Boner encouraged all citizens to emulate the spirit Mr. Drakus demonstrates.
Amelia Island Vintage Grand Prix presentation
Mr. Tony Parella, owner of Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA), explained his proposal to hold a vintage sportscar racing event at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport the week after the 2016 Amelia Concours d’Elegance. Parella, who was accompanied by Ralph Thomas, said that SVRA is the largest vintage racecar association in the nation. He said that he has chosen the airport site as the best place to hold a “meaningful event” on the East Coast.
The plan is to close the two instrument approach runways for 8 days, which allows for a 4-day event and two days at each end for set up and take down. He anticipates that about 200 cars would participate. Cars would be limited to vintages that would create the least noise for the surrounding area. Parella said that “people of wealth” participate in this sport and that there would be a strong, positive economic impact for the city and the island.
The city Airport Advisory Committee (AAC) has endorsed the concept, according to Chair Richard Gray, but not without some trepidation over closing the runways. Gray said that the AAC decided to approve the plan because they believed it was in the best interests of the city.
The next step is to get FAA approval, which could take six months. The FAA could also deny the request over concerns about impact to airport operations. Parella said that SVRA would like to enter into a 5-year contract with the city for annual events and would ensure that the airport would be in better shape after each event than before.
North Florida Transportation Planning Organization (NFTPO) presentation
Milton Locklear, Transportation/Planner/Modeling Specialist, presentedNFTPO’s annual update on its short-range transportation projects for Nassau County/Fernandina Beach east of US 17. The draft plan is scheduled for final approval at a public meeting that will be held on June 11, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. at the North Florida TPO Building, 1022 Prudential Drive, Jacksonville, FL. Local projects planned or underway include:
- I-95 from the Duval County line to US 17 (to begin FY 2016/17)
- I-95 landscaping the US 17 interchange (ongoing)
- I-95 landscaping at Georgia state line (ongoing)
- State Road 200 (A1A) from I-95 to west of Still Quarters Road: add lanes and reconstruct (ongoing)
- State Road 200 (A1A) west of Still Quarters Road to west of Rubin Lane: add lanes and reconstruct (began in September 2014 and expected to finish in late 2016)
- State Road 200 (A1A) from west of Rubin Lane to east of County Road 107/Scott Road: add lanes and reconstruct (to begin FY 2015/16)
- Chester Road: add lanes and reconstruct (FY 2018/19)
- Pages Dairy Road from Felmor Road to Chester Road: widen/resurface existing lanes ((FY2017/18)
- SR 200 (A1A) from Amelia River Bridge to Centre Street: resurfacing (FY 2015/16 – FY 2017/18)
- Bailey and Simmons Road from sports complex to Fletcher: bike path/trail (FY 2015/16 – FY 2017/18)
Commissioners Pat Gass and Robin Lentz urged NFTPO to consider adding sidewalks and road improvements to North 14th Street north of Atlantic Avenue to Pogey Place. In response to questions about adding a crosswalk to Atlantic Avenue at Citrona, Locklear advised that such a project required approval from FDOT, because Atlantic Avenue is a state road.
Marina Dredging Project Update
Lynn Williams advised the FBCC that he has received permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and DEP to proceed with his dredge test. He said that the proposed dredging can be done at low cost but does not yet know the speed at which the dredge works best. He said that he believes the dredge will not create turbidity problems, but will report to the FBCC at greater length in mid-June.
Shrimpfest Committee thanks city
Harry Harrison and representatives of the 2015 Shrimpfest Committee thanked the city for its help during this year’s festival. Harrison said that relocating the Fun Zone to its new location in Central Park seemed to work. He indicated that the committee would like to talk to the city in more detail in 60-90 days following close out of this year’s event.
Sidewalk to nowhere now goes somewhere
Local resident and handicapped advocate Marlene Chapman recapped events over the past couple years to get a sidewalk constructed from Centre Street to the Salty Pelican. Accompanied by her
wheelchair bound daughter and son-in-law, she explained that patience, especially in dealing with needs of her children, was not her long suit. After failing to get access problems solved locally, she sought help from state and federal authorities. She acknowledged that the process had to await settlement of a lawsuit, which did not occur until December 2014. She said that work on the sidewalk finally started Monday and that the progress in only a day has been remarkable. She told commissioners, “If something comes up that is not going the right way, I will be here. People told me, ‘back off,’ ‘leave it alone.’ But that’s not part of my spirit. So the sidewalk is under construction and hopefully soon we’ll all be able to enjoy it and move on to another project. For those who did help, I want to say thank you.”
External assessment center can help Fire Department in recruiting new chief
Joe Hernandez, a retired fire chief and former Fire Department employee, suggested that the city has a “phenomenal opportunity” to avoid past missteps by utilizing an external assessment center, composed of subject matter specialists, to set benchmarks for qualifying as chief and deputy chiefs. He said that to suggest that “on the job training” is sufficient to qualify for such positions is not factual and does a disservice to people at all ranks in the department. The assessment center he advocated is used throughout the country and provides a standard for fire chief selection. It removes local bias from the selection process. Those external subject specialists have significant experience in all the required disciplines, which provides a rational basis for candidate selection. Hernandez said that applicants for the Fernandina Beach position need to understand that this is not a job “to retire to.” The selected applicant needs to be intimately involved in all aspects of fire and emergency services that can occur in the city. “In a small municipality,” he said, “[the chief] needs to be a working beaver in the trenches with the troops.”
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.