By Dale Martin
City Manager
Fernandina Beach
December 31, 2021

City Manager Dale Martin

As we offer good-bye to a second year wracked by the pandemic, perhaps 2022 will have new opportunities for our community.

Already in progress is the first phase of the City’s resiliency effort along the Amelia River waterfront to protect against flooding due to tides and storms. To recap, the top of the seawall will rise to an elevation of nine feet above the water line. Please note that this does not mean that the wall will be nine feet high. The nine foot elevation was determined after a historic review of past storms and tidal surges: the nine-foot elevation will offer protection against nearly all water events with the exception of the most dangerous hurricanes.
For those concerned about water “going around the wall,” the downtown area is the low point along the waterfront between the Rayonier Advance Materials facility to the south and the Port of Fernandina to the north. Both of those properties already sit at a nine-foot elevation, so the nine-foot height will be consistent. Further south and further north are currently beyond the scope of the City’s effort, the primary focus of which is to protect the historic downtown.

The total project includes several segments for protective efforts. Segments 2 and 3 (at what is commonly referred to as Parking Lots D and C) is the current project and likely to be completed by the end of March. The next segment to construct has yet to be determined. The area of N. Front Street near Alachua Street is the lowest and most vulnerable to flooding (as often observed during tidal events and heavy storms), but design challenges in relation to private property remain, so that area will likely not be the next segmented constructed (unless City Commissioners wish to proceed with the portion of the project only located on City property in that area.

The areas in the vicinity of Parking Lots B and A are likely the furthest from consideration at this time due to the long-term future of the structure that houses Brett’s Waterway Café. The construction of a new seawall in that area will require significant construction, probably including the removal (and re-construction) of the waterfront boardwalk in those areas.
The most likely area for construction consideration is probably the far southern segment, tying the southern end of the new wall under construction to the Rayonier Advanced Materials facility further south. City staff has had several conversations with Rayonier Advanced Materials officials regarding this portion of the overall project. This segment can be transitioned to almost immediately, whereas all other segments will require significant additional time to resolve a variety of issues before construction can proceed. The City continues to seek state and federal funding to assist with the cost of this entire project.

At the most recent City Commission meeting, this City Commission, after dozens of previous City Commissions struggled, finally, after approximately forty years, approved, with no comments from the public and only minimal comments from the City Commissioners, the construction contract to re-open the Alachua Street railroad crossing. Also included in the construction contract were signal/safety improvements at the Ash Street and Centre Street railroad crossings.

The designs for those improvements have been previously published online on local news sites and the City website. At all three intersections, due to the separation needed for the new signals, Front Street will slightly bend toward the river. Those areas are the only current areas of Front Street that will be impacted at this time. The project will likely begin at the Ash Street crossing before moving to the Centre Street crossing. The Centre Street project will likely begin after the annual Shrimp Festival in early May. The Alachua Street crossing, due, in part, to coordinating stormwater improvements, will be the final portion. Alachua Street will also have streetscape improvements constructed (sidewalks, landscaping, lights) as part of this project between N. Front Street and N. 2nd Street.

The Alachua Street improvements will be of value to the redevelopment of two vacant and underutilized properties in that area. Both commercial and residential development is anticipated in that vicinity. A planned sidewalk and fence along the railroad tracks will provide a pedestrian connection from Alachua Street to Centre Street.

Other projects and goals will be reviewed and considered by the City Commission at its annual visioning session scheduled for January 26. Commissioners have four current topics to discuss: wages, waterfront, affordable housing, and capital improvements.

2022 has the makings for an exciting and productive year. For the most part, we have weathered the pandemic. I wish everyone a safe and happy New Year (except for Georgia fans- GO BLUE!).

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