12 Beach access walkovers in need of immediate repair or replacement for safety reasons

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 22, 2019 1:00 a.m.


Boardwalk at Fernandina Beach access 35S

Following receipt of a March 15, 2019 study by the engineering firm of Gillette & Associates, Inc. on the condition of beach walkovers in the city of Fernandina Beach the city has taken action in the interest of the safety of beach goers.  Three boardwalks (at 35S, 38 and 40) are so unsafe that they are scheduled for demolition.  Nine others (at 6N, 4N, 10, 27, 28, 29, 30, 36, and 39) will be undergoing immediate repairs.

Gillette’s study went beyond the original scope of work, which was initially limited to identifying the boardwalks that posed the greatest threat to public safety and should be closed.  However, engineers conducted a degree of examination on all boardwalks to determine which required immediate attention.  The visual inspection covered decking, railing, joists, girders, pilings and connectors.  Although constructed at different times, the basic design and construction plan for the walkovers remained consistent.

Gillette concluded that all of the walkovers have some degree of dune intrusion and require repairs, some more than others.  Gillette ranked the walkovers according to a scale of 5:

  1. Very good to excellent condition; resembling new or recent construction
  2. Good to above average condition; no structural deficiencies
  3. Fair to average condition with repairs warranted; no significant structural deficiencies
  4. Below average to poor condition with repairs required as soon as possible;  structural deficiencies present with elements of substantial structural damage; consideration given to close public access for immediate repairs
  5. Very poor condition with significant structural deficiencies and substantial structural damage; consideration given to close public access for complete replacement or removal

The report states:

Those boardwalk dune walkover systems ranked 4 or 5 suffer from connector degradation due to corrosion, along with repairs required for the deck, supports and/or railing system.  Most have experienced significant nut, washer and bolt head corrosion such that some connections have completely corroded apart.

The engineer determined that much of the connector corrosion was concentrated on the north side of the boardwalk and affected mostly the eastern portion.  Connector damage appeared to decrease west of the first or second frontal dune systems.

Of the 27 elevated boardwalks reviewed and rated, 12 were ranked 4 or 5 and contain enough damage that they warrant closing to the general public until repairs or replacements can be made.  The access numbers recommended for closure and immediate repair include:  6N, 4N, 10, 27, 28, 29, 30, 36, and 39.  The accesses recommended for closure until they can be replaced are 35S, 38 and 40.  [It should be noted that the city has already advertised for bids to replace 35S and 40.]

Gillette noted that all but five of the walkways (Main Beach, Seaside Park, 22, 23, and 33) are “at or approaching the end of the life expectancy of the wood and the connectors.”  Most of the boardwalks were installed in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

At the end of the March 19, 2019 Fernandina Beach City Commission meeting, City Manager Dale Martin addressed the problem of deteriorated beach walkovers.  He said he is working with staff to designate all the walkovers rated 4 and 5 as closed to the public by the end of the week.  The dismantling of access walkovers 35S, 38 and 40 will begin shortly thereafter.  Parking lots will remain open at those accesses, but access to the boardwalk will be barred with signs at the parking lot entrances.

Martin said that work will immediately begin to address the deficiencies of those boardwalks rated 4.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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robert riegler
robert riegler (@guest_54718)
4 years ago

#29 and #30 closed effective 9:15am today as are #28 and #27. I will only speak to #29 which I walkover most days 2x. Another “enginerring study” to protect the Beachgoers. Please just LEAVE .US ALONE. The photos show surface rust typicial of beach ares. We are walking over these paths not driving dune buggies,cars or the like. Why leave the parking lots open? Do you really think people will just sit in their cars at the Beach?

“Temporary” is a definition for the City of Fernandina that really concerns me….like a marina still closed three years later………

Eric Bartelt
Eric Bartelt(@ericbarteltgmail-com)
4 years ago

While Accesses 35S, 38 and 40 need to be replaced (this is not a sudden revelation – 35S and 40 have been on the Parks and Rec. Dept. list for replacement for at least three years. 38 is not on the list.), no where in Mr. Gillette’s report does he call for immediate demolition. What additional safety is achieved by demolishing a walkover if it has been closed to the public? If it’s closed, it’s closed. Since no one is allowed on it, what more is gained by immediately eliminating it?

Demolishing the walkovers assumes they are unrepairable. Access 38 (which I’m familiar with, since I live next door to it and use it nearly every day) is clearly repairable. With all due respect to Mr. Gillette, it should have been listed as a 4, instead of a 5. Some corroded bolts and split cross ties need to be replaced, which a carpenter or the Maintenance Dept. could easily do. The deck boards and railings, which were replaced a few years ago, are in fairly good condition, as are the stringers. Replacing the hardware and cross ties would extend the life of the walkover for a few more years, while a replacement plan and funding is developed. Close it now, repair it now, replace it later.

If the walkovers are demolished now, the concern is when will they be replaced? With a shortage of funding, due to the costs associated with rebuilding the marina, fixing the other closed walkovers, and other big ticket items the city is facing, including the possibility of significant costs associated with Amelia Bluff, it may be many months or years, before the three walkovers are replaced.

Nancy Dickson
Nancy Dickson(@nancyjackathenshotmail-com)
4 years ago

We use 30 on a regular basis and it appears weathered but fine. Others have said the same. It appears to be a case of hiring a consultant to find damage, and not surprisingly, they did.

If these walkovers are closed, but parking lots open, folks will just walk over the dunes causing massive destruction to this natural barrier that protects our island. That, coupled with trees being clear cut at an alarming rate, there soon will be nothing holding this fragile barrier island in place at all.

Joan BOND (@guest_54729)
4 years ago

Great timing! If they knew these walkovers needed repairing/replacing why weren’t they done this past winter. Spring breaks, northerners coming for warmer weather, etc. The dunes will be demolished with people crossing in those areas anyway. Shaking my head.