Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 5, 2022
At its January 4, 2022 Regular Meeting, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) unanimously supported passage of Resolution 2022-06, approving an Interlocal Agreement with the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) as the sponsor of the navigational channel in the Amelia River. OHPA voted to approve this agreement at their December 8, 2021, meeting. This Interlocal Agreement provides that OHPA supports moving the navigational channel to the west and that the City assumes all responsibility as assigned by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Since the navigational channel has been inactive for many decades, the cost of “moving” the channel does not, at this time, involve any costs associated with dredging the channel. Should operations in the channel be restored, the City would be responsible for the costs of dredging the relocated channel. The United States Army Corps of Engineers has not paid any costs associated with the maintenance of the navigational channel since approximately the mid-1980s.
City staff is not aware of any plans to make use of the federal channel for the foreseeable future. Commissioners acknowledged that there is a remote possibility that the City could be on the hook for future dredging costs, should the channel be activated. However, the only party to utilize the channel would be Rayonier Advanced Materials. That firm has provided written endorsement of the City’s request to move the channel. Also, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) would need to spend tens of millions of dollars to dredge the turning basin at Rayonier to make the channel usable.
The move will allow the City to expand its marina northward into deep water.
City Manager Dale Martin expressed the City’s appreciation to OHPA for moving this item forward. “It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I especially thank [OHPA] Chairman [Danny] Fullwood, who has come before you pledging support as well as the other OHPA Commissioners. There are times when we have disagreements with OHPA, but I think this demonstrated a willingness to work together for the benefit of the entire community. So thank you to the OHPA Commissioners.”
The channel relocation was approved by the U.S. Congress 21 years ago.