Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 22, 2018 – 7:30 a.m.
Just when we thought the city was on track to get the marina back up and running the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to throw in a monkey wrench.
In October 2016, the City of Fernandina Beach Marina sustained substantial damage as a result of Hurricane Matthew. In the interim some repairs were made, but the most critical (and most expensive) repairs awaited approval and reimbursement from FEMA.
The City finally got FEMA to release funds for the repair of the southern attenuator (also referred to as Dock 1) and the associated dockhouse. The City Commission approved on January 12, 2018, a proposal from Applied Technology Management (ATM), Inc. ($34,540) to prepare a design build criteria package for the purpose of entering into a design-build contract via RFQ to repair the damaged facilities. And on February 20, 2018, the City Commission unanimously approved an additional ATM service ($19,460) for project bidding and evaluation of the bids received.
It seemed like finally the city would be able, with ATM’s assistance, to start looking at advertising the construction job and awarding a contract to a design-build firm to get the marina back in working order.
Here’s where the Army Corps of Engineers comes in.
When the city applied for a permit to repair and replace the attenuator in the exact same position it had always been in, the Corps said, “Sorry.” Why? Current guidance that they follow mandates that such construction must be 100 feet from the channel, and in the Fernandina Marina, the dock is only 70 feet from the channel. Apparently, it had no bearing on the Corps’ ruling that FEMA mandated that the dock be repaired and replaced exactly where it had been before.
Also not on the Corps’ radar was a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2000 mandating the move of the channel to the west. Had that been done as directed by the Congress, the entire question would be moot.
At the February 20, 2018 FBCC meeting, Commissioner Chip Ross asked for a status report on the permit request. He also asked about a back up plan, should the Corps deny the permit request.
City Manager Dale Martin informed commissioners that the offices of Sen. Bill Nelson (D), Sen. Marco Rubio (R), and Representative John Rutherford (R) have all been enlisted to move the Corps off their position, since the permit request does not violate law. It merely runs counter to current “ agency guidance.” Martin, who had been on the phone with Rubio’s office that morning, said, “If we don’t get the permits, we don’t build the attenuator.” Martin said that the city cannot move ahead without that permit.
In answer to Ross’ request that he recap the permit situation, Martin said that the city had applied to the Corps for the permit last October upon receiving a green light from FEMA. Rob Semmes, the ATM representative who has been in almost daily contact with the Corps, was then told that the city would be getting a letter denying the permit. Martin said that the original attenuator had been built and permitted by the Corps in the 1980’s. The Corps has now said that current guidance suggests that the city or the Port of Fernandina needs to pursue moving the channel westward. The City has argued that the Water Redevelopment Act of 2000 “authorized the Corps with no other conditions to move the channel out to 100 feet.”
“That was an act of Congress in 2000,” Martin said. “So why the Corps has not moved the channel in 20 years is a question the Corps has to answer.” Martin said that is the subject of inquiry by the Congressional offices working to help the city in this regard. “FEMA won’t let us build it in another location,” Martin said. “Or they won’t reimburse us if we build in another location. Do I think we’ll get the permit? Yes, I do. Do I think it will take some arm-twisting? Yes, it will. But I think we’ll get there.”
The next step – ignoring the permit for the meanwhile – is for ATM to develop an RFQ to prequalify bidders for the design build contract.
Commissioner Roy Smith said that the city should not award a design build contract until the permit issue has been resolved. Otherwise, the city could be incurring additional costs. Other commissioners appeared to agree with Smith.
Commissioners and the City Manager appeared sanguine that the permit would be issued eventually. Martin said that he anticipated a resolution by the end of March at which time the city would be prepared to advertise the work to be done.