Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
October 13, 2017 2:17 p.m.
At their October 11, 2017 Monthly Meeting, Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) commissioners dealt with several important issues, including appointing a new commissioner, requesting assistance on a special bill to modernize Port facilities, the future of the Customs House, and business opportunities.
Lissa Braddock appointed to serve out late husband’s OHPA term
OHPA Commissioners unanimously passed Resolution 2017-9 declaring the District 5 seat vacant following the death of Commissioner Ron Braddock and appointing his widow Liss K. Braddock to serve out the remainder of his term ending in 2018.
Mrs. Braddock had indicated a willingness to serve in tribute to her late husband. She has not expressed interest in seeking election to the position in the next election, nor has she ruled it out at this time.
Board Attorney Clyde Davis cited a precedent for such action. Upon the death of OHPA Commissioner Ed Gandy in 2007, his wife Margie was appointed to serve out his term.
Other OHPA actions
Commissioners also passed Resolution 2017-8, urging the Nassau Legislative Delegation to “introduce legislation for the appropriation of funds necessary for expansion of warehouse space and modernization of crane services at the Port of Fernandina.” The resolution also urged Governor Rick Scott to “recognize the critical nature of this appropriation in order for the Port of Fernandina to develop new business, continue to employ skilled workers, and support surrounding businesses through infrastructure and modernization of facilities.”
The decision to move forward in this direction came after a failed attempt to secure funds to make necessary repairs at the Port of Fernandina last year. Although OHPA had attempted to work through the Florida Ports Council to secure a grant, they were unsuccessful. Such grants are awarded based on a match, which OHPA was not able to provide.
But recently the Nassau Legislative Delegation (Florida Senator Aaron Bean and State Representative Cord Byrd) agreed to sponsor a special bill in an attempt to secure the needed funding, following an onsite tour of the Port.
The Port of Fernandina has been home to a local office of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) for many years. However, recent budget issues have caused OHPA to reexamine the existing arrangement. The CPB’s lease for space located at 403 North 3rd Street in Fernandina Beach will expire in 2020. At this time the CPB appears to have no plans to renew or extend the lease, which was obtained through the General Services Administration (GSA).
At issue appears to be the operational cost of maintaining the facility: utilities, supplies, etc. Commissioner Carrol Franklin said that OHPA would be willing to let CBP have the use of the facility but that OHPA could not foot the bill for operational costs. There was also a suggestion that CBP ask Kinder Morgan for assistance.
OHPA Attorney Clyde Davis said that legally OHPA is only required to provide space for the Radiation Portal Monitor used for the clearance of cargo through the Port.
Commissioners discussed other possibilities for addressing CBP’s space needs following the expiration of the GSA lease. CBP has expressed interest in remaining on site as opposed to having its agents commute to the Port from another jurisdiction. Commissioners also spoke about the possibility of joint ventures with the City of Fernandina Beach, the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard to provide space once the GSA lease runs out. They expressed interest in exploring grants, if a new facility were to be built.
New business opportunities
Nassau County Economic Development Director and Port Manager Laura DiBella reported that economic development opportunities on the west side of the county are close to fruition. She asked for a meeting/workshop with bond counsel to have mechanisms in place so that development could begin within 12 months. She said that industrial concerns that require 20K to 500K square feet of space are seriously considering locating in Nassau County. She also reported that she is about to begin discussions with LignoTech USA that could increase Port business.
Port Director: Business picking up post Irma
Stephen DuBose, Commercial Director of the Port of Fernandina, reported that volume and revenue for September were down because of problems with Atlantic hurricanes Irma and Maria. The Port handled only 16 trucks per day. But shipping was delayed until October, not cancelled. Due to west side development, DuBose is expecting to see a bump in container traffic over the near term. He also presented OHPA with a check in the amount of $86,281.15 representing Kinder Morgan’s annual fee.
FMX to disband
Due to lack of local interest the Fernandina Maritime Exchange (FMX) has decided to disband.
Correction made 10-15-2017: In the initial publication, the Commercial Director of the Port was misidentified. Stephen DuBose serves in that capacity. We regret the error.