Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 7, 2018
At their March 6, 2018 Regular Meeting, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) and City Manager Dale Martin addressed various outstanding issues impeding marina repairs during a discussion around the approval of a grant request to the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) for marina dredging.
The grant application requested $175,000 in FIND funding to be matched by $175,000 by the city of Fernandina Beach. Commissioners approved the grant request with a unanimous vote.
Commissioner Chip Ross, who supported the grant request, urged commissioners to read two feasibility studies conducted in previous years addressing the dredging problem in the city marina: The feasibility study of the South Basin done by ATM in January 2017 and the original redevelopment feasibility study by ATM in 1996.
Mayor John Miller asked Marina Manager Joe Springer whether any recent feasibility study had been done to address the effectiveness of dredging. Springer said that the city has cooperated on such studies done by ATM, the city’s marina consultant. But he added that unplanned events – like hurricanes – seem to alter the results.
Ross said that the ATM study conducted in 1996 reviews the various options available to mitigate the on-going need to dredge. Miller said that he believed that circumstances since 1996 had probably changed, so he was looking for a more recent study.
Springer said that all the dredging that has occurred over the years since the marina’s creation has been done with perpendicular docks. With the reconfiguration of the south basin and move to parallel docks, the engineers have said the sedimentation will change. “They’re not telling me in which direction,” Springer said, “but it’s going to change.”
ACE will probably permit south attenuator repairs within the month.
Following the vote, City Manager Dale Martin offered the FBCC a brief summary of a meeting held earlier in the day with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE). Martin, Springer and ATM representative Rob Semmes had a productive meeting with the ACE, which agreed to reconfirm the 70-foot distance from the navigation channel of the attenuator, which the city has been attempting to repair. Martin said that if they can confirm that distance, the ACE would issue the permit allowing the city to repair the south attenuator.
Move the dock house?
Martin said that ACE raised concerns with the location of the dock house on the attenuator. The dock house and the northern attenuator are apparently closer to 7 feet from the navigation channel. That may present problems in rebuilding those structures in their current locations. During the meeting various solutions were discussed, such as locating the dock house to the south side of the gangway. After the meeting city staff discussed the possibility of doing away with the building altogether and relocating the function to the building that is up on the higher dock to that purpose.
During the meeting there was an effort to connect the work on the south attenuator to that proposed for the north side project, which has been partially funded with a BIG-P grant. Martin said that the city insisted on separating the projects, with priority being given to the south attenuator.
FBCC and OHPA to discuss moving inactive navigation channel
Martin advised the ACE that there would be a joint meeting of the FBCC and the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) on March 13 to discuss moving the channel and other items of mutual concern. He said that ACE has raised concerns over recent changes in leadership both in the city and at the Port of Fernandina, which have caused them to question whether both parties are pursuing the same goals. Martin said that ongoing meetings with OHPA could clarify that issue.
In response to a question from the Mayor, Martin replied that the Port has nothing to do with the marina repairs. However, it is the sponsor of the navigation channel. “Any work to relocate or shift the channel requires the concurrence of the channel sponsor, which is the Port.”
Martin reminded commissioners that the city already has an ACE permit for the realignment of docks in the south basin. He said that the city expressed its frustration with a lack of communication from ACE following the city’s request for the attenuator repair permit last fall. He said that ACE has agreed to be more official in its correspondence, instead of just relying on telephone calls to ATM, going forward.
In response to a question from Commissioner Roy Smith regarding anticipated difficulties in moving forward with plans for the north side of the marina, Martin noted that ACE has not maintained the depth of the navigation channel, because it is not an active channel. “But then,” he said, “if we ask for it to be moved, even though it is an inactive channel, we would have to pay to have it dredged. We need to get more clarification. It’s okay not to dredge it when it is under ACE, but if we want to move it, we need to dredge it. Moving the channel does not involve a permit, just a request and an agreement to do the work.”
Martin said, “Once we get on the same page with the Port, if they are willing to sponsor the move, then we are closer to having it happen.”
But Martin said that another outstanding issue relates to the BIG-P grant to the city in the amount of $1.5M to construct the north basin. The city needs to match that grant, and the FBCC has not yet given direction on how to proceed. He said that if the city’s direction is not to provide the matching funds, then the marina will not be moving northward and there would be no need to move the channel.
Commissioner Smith said that since the city has already purchased land to the north in anticipation of the marina expansion, he felt that significant funds have already been invested in the project.
Commissioner Ross advised commissioners that ATM had done a paper on channel relocation. He suggested that there is a lot more work that needs to be done before the city commits to moving the marina northward, including the condition of the existing seawall and the engineering study in connection with opening the Alachua crossing.
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.