Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 13, 2019 4:23 p.m.
On March 12, 2019, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) and the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) convened in a joint meeting as the Joint Local Planning Agency at the Fernandina Beach City Hall to address matters of concern to both local governments. While there is no set schedule for these meetings, the last time both bodies met was October 25, 2016. Consensus among both sets of elected officials following 90 minutes of discussion was that they should strive to meet twice a year to exchange views and resolve outstanding issues that affect the lives of their constituents.
Amelia Island Bike Trail
First on the agenda was Island resident Mike Pikula, who addressed the JLPA on future plans for the Amelia Island Bike Trail and requested county and city assistance in completing the northern link that would connect the existing trail from Simmons Road to a possible ferry from the Fernandina Harbor Marina to Georgia. He thanked both boards for past support, and asked that the county provide $2.8M and the city $1.4M to support the northern link which would run along Citrona Drive to Beech Street before reaching the Amelia River. Pikula said, “We think this is doable and that it would improve the quality of life for our residents.”
City Commissioner Chip Ross asked what $1.4M would buy. Pikula said that it would permit construction of an 8-foot trail in city Right-of-Ways on the east side of Will Hardee and Citrona Drive. Details for the Beech Street portion have not yet been worked out. Vice Mayor Len Kreger requested that the project be broken into segments so that it could be considered for inclusion in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan.
The county did not indicate a position at this time.
Beach Renourishment, MSTU Funds
City Vice Mayor Kreger briefed the BOCC on the current status of beach renourishment efforts. He said that the current $32 million project beach fill project from New York Avenue (R25) to just south of Sadler (R-34) is near completion. Equipment should be off the beach around March 22, 2019. Kreger recapped some of the beach renourishment funding history. He asked that current charges for consultant and monitoring work be paid from funds in the Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU), commonly called the Sand Tax Fund.
There was some confusion over whether the county had authorized such expenditures or whether the city had incurred expenses without the county’s approval. After some discussion the matter was clarified when the parties realized that the county had previously paid these expenses prior to the creation of the MSTU. County Manager Mullin said that any expenses charged against the MSTU would need to conform to the stated purpose of the fund.
In order to quell some concerns circulating in the community, commissioners agreed that the MSTU funding would continue to accumulate at the current millage rate so that in the event of a major hurricane, there would be money available to restore the beaches.
In addressing the expenditure of funds collected in the MSTU, County Commissioner Aaron Bell (District 2) urged the parties to view the island beaches as one beach and to develop a holistic approach to addressing beach concerns.
In a noteworthy show of like mindedness, county and city officials responded positively to the county’s Planning Director Taco Pope’s suggestion that the parties commit to developing an island-wide plan to minimize or eliminate differences between city and county ordinances in approaching issues such as annexation, conservation and beaches.
Commissioners agreed that such an approach would help island residents who claim ignorance of where city jurisdiction ends and county jurisdiction begins. The plan would also clarify development requirements for those who currently operate under county development rules but who will ultimately annex into the city to obtain water and sewer service.
Pope cited the example of 8th Street, which is part governed by city development standards and part by the county’s rules. He said that county staff wanted permission to work at the staff level to develop a joint agreement that would provide for common requirements for businesses along that corridor with respect to items such as signage, setbacks, etc. He also cited the need to develop a common approach to planting and removing trees.
Although City Commissioner Chip Ross wanted to move quickly on this matter, both City Manager Dale Martin and County Administrator Mike Mullin cited existing workload for their planners and agreed that more time was needed to research and develop a plan that could be brought back to both boards for action. They agreed that the time frame for developing and submitting such a plan should be pushed back to the end of calendar year 2019.
Pope also brought forward the idea of creating a Tree Commission and an island-wide tree planting program.
Another issue raised by the county related to the ownership and maintenance of county roads within the city limits. For example, Sadler Road is currently a county road. However, soon it is estimated that the road will be entirely within the limits of the city of Fernandina Beach. If the county opts to transfer ownership of that road to the city, the decision will impact on budget and staffing of the city Streets Department. Also, since the county does not provide street lights on its roads, roads such as Sadler would need to be brought to city standards should they become city roads. Associated costs would need to be factored in city budget and staffing requests.
Commissioners also talked about the role of their respective elected bodies and the Tourist Development Council (TDC) in providing beach clean up from Fort Clinch to the state park at the south end of Amelia Island. BOCC Vice Chair Danny Leeper (District 1), who also chairs the TDC, said that the goal of the TDC is to provide common beach clean up services to all island beaches, regardless of jurisdiction. The TDC is attempting to develop a plan for beach clean up to include both scope and specifics to clarify responsibilities and expectations. In drafting the plan, the TDC will look toward those adopted by other Florida beach counties.
City Commissioner Chip Ross appeared to take issue with the need for more time to develop a plan. He suggested that most of the key items had already been discussed. Ross and city Vice Mayor Len Kreger also serve on the TDC. County Commissioner Pat Edwards (District 3) agreed with Kreger that specifics were important, because the existing contract is not working well. Edwards said that the county would rely on the TDC recommendation, which would be forthcoming soon. He cautioned Ross that government time is not the same as “ER time” — a reference to Ross’ work as an emergency room doctor. However, the parties agreed to meet again within a few months to iron out a beach clean up plan that would meet both the needs of the city and the county.
Wanted: Life Guards
City Vice Mayor Kreger also raised the problem of recruiting a sufficient number of lifeguards for the upcoming beach season. He said that it has become increasingly difficult to recruit for this position, citing low pay and other more lucrative summer employment opportunities for college students. The parties agreed to discuss the problem with city Fire Department Chief Ty Silcox and Ocean Rescue to find solutions.
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.