Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
August 12, 2021
Many concerned residents of the City of Fernandina Beach turned out for the August 11, 2021 Regular Meeting of the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) to express their concerns over what appear to be plans for port expansion and closing of some City streets. Fernandina Beach Mayor Mike Lednovich and City Commissioner Chip Ross attended. Public attendance at these meetings is normally light, but with issues swirling around OHPA intentions and those of the Nassau Terminals director regarding the future of the Port of Fernandina, public attention has been heightened.
Many questions and concerns surrounded language and intent spelled out in the RAISE grant application recently submitted to the Department of Transportation. In that grant application, OHPA expressed intentions to expand the physical boundary of the port to the south along Front Street and to dead end Dade Street on the west into the port itself.
The Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE Discretionary Grant program, provides an opportunity for the DOT to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve national objectives. Previously known as the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) and Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grants, Congress has dedicated nearly $8.9 billion for twelve rounds of National Infrastructure Investments to fund projects that have a significant local or regional impact.
OHPA’s position appeared to be that what had been submitted was merely an application for an application for a grant. They claimed that discussions and consultations would be held with the City of Fernandina Beach prior to the submission of the final grant application. However, the Fernandina Observer has been informed that a DOT spokesperson confirmed that the Port grant application was for funding for those specific projects that the City and residents oppose.
Meanwhile, at their August 17, 2021 Regular Meeting, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) will consider via Resolution 2021-131 rescinding their letter of support for the OHPA grant application.
At their July 6, 2021, Regular Meeting, the FBCC had approved Resolution 2021-102, authorizing a RAISE grant application letter of support on behalf of the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) / Port of Fernandina (Port) as supplemental documentation in their efforts to seek Federal infrastructure grants totaling approximately $15 million dollars to expand and modernize the Port’s on-dock warehouses, rail capacity, truck gates, and personnel. Unknown to the FBCC at the time of their endorsement, the plans to be funded by the grant included proposed expansion and modernization projects not previously disclosed.
There has been an uneasy relationship between OHPA and the City of Fernandina Beach since the Port of Fernandina was created in the 1980’s. A lack of trust between the parties has led to many clashes of both governing boards and local citizenry. The parties are currently in litigation over OHPA’s failure to pay overdue PILOT payments and its interpretation of future obligations to do so. [PILOT stands for Payment In Lieu Of Taxes.]
During the OHPA meeting the Board ousted Christopher Ragucci as Port Director and named no successor. Ragucci continues to serve as President and CEO of World Wide Terminals and manager of Nassau Terminals, the operator of the Port of Fernandina.