Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 22, 2019 1:00 a.m.
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:
- Very good to excellent condition; resembling new or recent construction
- Good to above average condition; no structural deficiencies
- Fair to average condition with repairs warranted; no significant structural deficiencies
- 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
- 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.
Editor’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.