By Cindy Jackson
Reporter
December 3, 2021

State Senator Aaron Bean and State Rep Cord Byrd appear before a full house at the James Page Center to discuss OHPA charter.

It was standing room only in Commission Chambers on the afternoon of December 13, 2021, for a special session of the legislative delegation to discuss changes in the Ocean Highway and Port Authority’s (OPHA) charter.

Despite a long list of individuals wishing to speak, the meeting was conducted under tight time guidelines and all who wished to speak were given time at the podium.  At 2:58 PM a vote was taken to move forward with legislation at the state level.

This action was taken as a result of the City of Fernandina and OPHA being unable to agree on two interlocal agreements – one regarding the port’s channel and the other concerning the principle of eminent domain.  Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take private property for public use.

By way of background, albeit super short, the port of Fernandina Beach was created in 1986 as a “pocket port.”  It currently provides about 60 individuals with full time jobs with benefits.

It is viewed by most as a public asset.  As such, many argue that it needs to grow, but when the port was constructed there was an agreement that the port would not expand into the historic district.

As part of its charter, instead of paying taxes, the port is to pay the City of Fernandina Beach $50,000 per year.  That has been called into question in recent years and there has been no such payment since the port was taken over by Worldwide Terminals.

Most recently, the City Commission and Fernandina Beach citizens became irate about a grant application that was submitted to the US Department of Transportation for monies to help the port expand.  That application contained a “vision” that included closing streets around the port and taking properties – i.e. employing the principle that is eminent domain.

Some members of OPHA say they never saw the grant application.

Christopher Ragucci, of Worldwide Terminals, the firm which operates the Port of Fernandina addresses the delegation.

Christopher Ragucci, with Worldwide Terminals, the firm which operates the Port of Fernandina, stated at the public forum on December 13, 2021, that the application he submitted was a “conceptual design for potential improvement” – for a conditional award by the USDOT.  Ragucci went on to explain that things would all be vetted during the year review and that there was no deliberate attempt to do things in secret.

Ragucci was not present when his name was first called and once at the podium, he apologized and stated that there was a safety issue at the port which delayed his appearance.  An email was immediately sent to the port inquiring about the safety issue but at press time, no response had been received.

Trust and transparency were two words often employed by the individuals who spoke to Senator Aaron Bean and Representative Cord Byrd.  City Commissioner Chip Ross asked that the port adhere to the same rules the rest of the community follows which includes . . . building codes, flood plans, historic guidelines and land development codes.

Len Kreger, Vice Mayor of Fernandina Beach, referred to Bean and Byrd as the “adult leadership” needed to help resolve the issues.

After the meeting, Tammi Kosack, Member of Fernandina Beach Historic District Council, had this to say:

“I am elated that Senator Bean moved to adopt the local bill and recommended it pass,” saying what has happened of late “is not the way we like to operate”, and having Rep Byrd “echo all those comments”, and second the motion effectively moving the bill along to Tallahassee.

Kosack went on to say, “It is gratifying that the delegation heard the concerns and voices of the citizens.  We are at a critical juncture in balancing the needs of the community with the goals for a successful port.  At this point it appears this did not fall on deaf ears.”

 

 

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Robert Warner
Robert Warner
6 months ago

Good.

chuck hall
chuck hall
6 months ago

So glad to see this mess put to bed finally. I hope this helps OHPA and the City get along better concerning the impact that the port can have on the town and neighborhood. Too bad it had to go this far.

Tammi Kosack
Tammi Kosack
6 months ago
Reply to  chuck hall

It’s not quite put to bed…there will likely be attempts to still enter into an Inter Local Agreement and have the bill pulled from Tally, so our work is not yet over. It is far stronger to have a bill adopted than to have an ILA, as the agreement can be changed or challenged. With changing Boards at City and OHPA, there can be a pendulum effect with the ILA revised, amended, or eliminated completely.

It is important to get the bill moved through the proper channels for total enactment. Thanks to all the community support on this important issue!

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