Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter News Analyst
June 11, 2019 11:00 a.m.
Fernandina Beach Stormwater Department Director Andre Desilet presented the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) with an overview of the city’s plans and efforts to address resiliency needs and issues along the Amelia Riverfront during a workshop on June 4, 2019.
Through 20 slides and discussion, Desilet outlined many of the problems associated with rising water levels exacerbated by storms and tides. While general policies and procedures can provide strategies to mitigate the effects of these occurrences, predictions are difficult to make. Consequently, communities are required to conduct constant assessments to identify vulnerabilities and determine effective courses of action.
Desilet said that since 1897 NOAA has maintained a tide station at the city marina to measure hydrological changes. Blue sky flooding today is caused by elevated tides, not a storm. Flooding starts at an elevation of 5.0’ (NAVD 1988).
Desilet provided two slides showing baseline flood elevations (red line) compared to flooding experienced during Hurricane Matthew, a Category 1 Hurricane (yellow line):
Objectives sought via the Stormwater Master Plan for the riverfront include:
- Eliminating tidal “Blue‐sky” flooding
- Flood protection from storm surge
- Electrical system resilience
- Minimizing damage to infrastructure
- Increasing railroad safety
- Protecting historic structures
The city has already embarked on some projects, and others are in the planning or design phases. Part of a Master Plan would involve placing utility lines along Front Street underground. Individual property owners need to consider ways to dry-floodproof existing structures to reduce damage from flooding events. The city is also in the process of considering how to proceed to create natural solutions to flood protection along the Amelia River.
Desilet said that in putting together a Master Plan, the city’s goal is to address issues holistically, as opposed to handling each particular problem without regard to its relationship or impact on other parts of the waterfront. He expressed hope that the public outreach portion of the plan will be completed in August.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger thanked Desilet for his briefing He asked that the local mitigation strategy also be incorporated into the process. Desilet said there would have to be a phased approach to construction following a plan. Kreger added, “But [the downtown waterfront] is not the most vulnerable part of the city. That would be property owners along the Egans Creek basin south to Sadler Road where there would be significant losses at the 3-foot flood level. That’s dealing with people and houses.” Kreger addressed other commissioners, “I just want to make sure that we don’t spend all our time on the downtown area.” Desilet agreed that the city needs to incorporate the Egans Creek Basin into its planning.
Local attorney Clinch Kavanaugh once again made the argument that while rising water levels and storm surge are clearly matters of concern, the greater concern is subsidence of the land in the Front Street corridor. That area was once part of the riverbed and has been built up with fill dirt over the years.
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.