By Dale Martin
February 11, 2022
With the State Legislature currently in session, City Attorney Tammi Bach and I made our annual trip to Tallahassee to stay abreast of issues of particular importance to the City. Due to several prior commitments or conflicts, unfortunately, no City Commissioners were able to join us.
Ms. Bach and I were again shepherded around the Capitol by Mr. Arthur “Buddy” Jacobs. Mr. Jacobs has worked in the Capitol for several decades, artfully representing the City and its interests over the past many years. Walking with Mr. Jacobs through the halls of the Capitol is an endlessly fascinating series of greetings, with pretty much every senator, representative, legislative staffer, or Capitol employee (many of which haven’t been alive for as long as Mr. Jacobs has worked in the Capitol!) greeting him enthusiastically by name. It is a pleasure to see someone so highly regarding ply his trade, especially on behalf of the City.
We traveled to Tallahassee on Tuesday afternoon. After arriving, we then had the opportunity to enjoy a lengthy evening with Senator and Mrs. (Abby) Bean. Senator Bean was most interested in the City’s relationship with the Ocean Highway Port Authority (OHPA) and the Port Operator. Ms. Bach and I indicated that we greatly valued the recent efforts by OHPA Chairman Danny Fullwood to improve the relationship between the City and OHPA.
Chairman Fullwood led the OHPA effort to support the City’s effort to realign the federal navigational channel. The channel realignment, originally authorized by the United States Congress in 2000, was necessary in order to protect the City’s investment in the rebuilt marina facilities. Following the destruction of the out dock in Hurricane Matthew, the City required a waiver from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to rebuild the dock in its previous location because the dock was too close (only six feet) to the channel
The USACE, as a condition of the waiver being granted, advised the City that no further waivers would be granted: the only way to rebuild the marina after a similar catastrophic event was to have the channel realigned. That constraint was the primary motivating factor for the City to pursue the channel realignment. The realignment is nearly complete and should be presented to OHPA (the channel sponsor) shortly for final approval.
Several other Port concerns, perhaps more associated with the Port Operator than OHPA (it is a confusing but critical distinction) remain high on Senator Bean’s priorities: truck traffic, trash, and lack of coordination/communication for Port improvements. Although the recent Interlocal Agreement between the City and OHPA addresses some issues, based upon our discussion with Sen. Bean, he has several additional issues that remain to be resolved.
Ms. Bach and I also shared some concerns of the City, most specifically about recent difficulty in cooperation with the State Department of Emergency Management (DEM). The City has qualified for (and been tentatively awarded) additional stormwater funding due to flooding damages resulting from Hurricane Matthew. Plans for improvements and the required permits had been submitted in 2018 and approved in 2018. The City submitted construction plans and permit applications last April, but the process continues to be bogged down through a series of additional requests for information. The City has other funding allocated to the project and is ready to begin construction. If the City begins construction before the DEM funds are officially awarded, however, those DEM funds are jeopardized.
Mr. Jacobs escorted us around the Capitol on Wednesday. We attended the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing (you may think that sounds boring, but the room was standing room only!). Senator Bean graciously acknowledged Ms. Bach and me as part of his general compliments for the participation of all local government officials visiting the Capitol.
We then met with Rep. Clay Yarborough. Rep Yarborough is a former Jacksonville City Councilman and currently represents a large portion of Duval County. Due to Senator Bean’s impending departure from the State Senate due to term limits, Rep. Yarborough has indicated his interest in running for Sen. Bean’s seat. Our conversation was brief, but we invited Rep. Yarborough to contact us to learn more of the issues facing Fernandina Beach.
We had a brief visit with Rep. Cord Byrd. Like Senator Bean, the City will no longer have Rep. Byrd representing the City, but this is due to the preliminary realignment of Rep. Byrd’s district. We thanked Rep. Bryd for his extensive support, especially related to OHPA and the Port, on City concerns.
Our final visit was with Ms. Rebecca O’Hara of the Florida League of Cities. Ms. O’Hara offered her insights about pending legislation that may have significant impacts on local government. As with all legislative sessions, local governments will continue to be challenged with unfunded mandates and preemption legislation. It is a matter of continuing to articulate and engage on behalf of local governments throughout the State.
As always, it was an interesting and valuable trip to Tallahassee. Thank you, Mr. Jacobs, for your lengthy and dedicated support for the City.