Dune decisions: An opinion

Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Chip Ross

Submitted by Chip Ross
Fernandina Beach City Commissioner
August 31, 2020

Recently grants for dune walkovers have come before the City Commission.  With no dune plan in place, the Commission struggles with which walkovers to fund.  Since adequate sand dunes can prevent substantial property damage from storm surge flooding, it is critical to grow dunes at our beaches. An affordable plan to protect the dunes needs to be developed. Additionally, a community supported plan enhances the probability of obtaining grants. 

Currently the City of Fernandina Beach maintains forty-eight beach accesses on approximately four miles of beach. To assess them, recently the City hired an independent professional engineer. The engineer found five of the walkovers needed to be removed immediately due to safety concerns and twenty-seven of them are in need of replacement in the near future. With a limited budget, no money has been budgeted to replace any walkovers.  Estimates for walkover replacements are approximately over $7.2 million and $2.5 million for walkovers where no walkover exists. 

Overwhelming support exists for keeping all 48 beach access points. Ideally the City would build or replace a walkover at every beach access. Walkovers with ramps provide stable footing allowing easy access for small children, beach wagons, and the elderly without impeding necessary dune growth.  

Dune walkovers are expensive and constructing them gets complicated.  As someone suggested on Facebook, it’s not just someone going out there with a hammer and nails putting up some lumber. Engineering drawings must accompany an application for a permit from the Florida Department of the Environment to begin the job. Once the walkover is approved for construction, a licensed contractor must be hired, and construction can only take place outside of turtle season.  With our limited budget and the need to protect our dunes, some type of alternative needs to be considered.  

Some coastal communities who already have healthy dunes are embracing the “goat path” alternative with roped-off paths that guide the foot traffic in directions that least damage the dunes.  Others have bought mats with roped-off or snow-fenced paths.  Some have simply attempted to protect the critical “foredune”, or frontal dune with a partial walkover. Signage of where and where not to walk is critical.  The best option maybe a combination of these and other approaches, which may change over time. 

Having little to no funding for dune walkovers, and beachgoers wanting to keep all access points open and accessible, as a Commissioner, I would like to have input from the community in the formulation of the City’s Dune Plan.  Do we want to borrow money for more traditional walkovers?  Can we accept alternatives?  How do we determine which walkovers, if any, get replaced and when? To meet a need for community input, could the Planning Board form a subcommittee to have public hearings and workshops to engage the community in coming to a community consensus as to what the City can afford and accomplish with maintaining beach accesses and growing our protective dune system?  

I look forward to the community’s thoughts, suggestions, and comments. I can be reached at [email protected] or 410-394-0220. 

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Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
3 years ago

Chip, some great questions. Without a plan, nothing will ever get done or will be attacked in a haphazard way. While a more legitimate question would be why hasn’t a plan been developed given all the issues that resulted after the engineer’s report was issued and crossovers were closed or torn down, that is water over the dam (dune). I would suggest that first an inventory of all the existing access points be conducted including a current assessment of the state of the crossover. While ramps are more convenient than steps, the reality is they are much more expensive and I suspect that many of the crossovers don’t have the physical space to allow a ramp meeting ADA specifications to be constructed or such construction would significantly impact parking spaces. P&R impact fee revenue can be used to construct crossovers where none existed before. I still don’t understand the justification for the use of impact fees for the northern section of the Main Beach boardwalk as one existed there before and I was always told that impact fees could not be used for replacement or maintenance expenses but only for new capital improvements due to growth. But I digress.

There seems to be differing opinions as to whether TDC bed tax revenue can be used for the maintenance of crossovers under the current statute. I know the TDC is saying they are already funding over $1 million in beach clean-up operations and they covered the city/county portion of the last beach nourishment project as the “sand tax” fund had not accumulated enough to do so. But the beaches are one of the major draws for tourists and they are heavy users of these access points.

NEIL BORUM (@guest_58766)
3 years ago

Yet, the FBCC finds money for other limited use projects …. the not needed “park”, TopTracer, the down town dream park…the list goes on. Meanwhile the “goat path” walkovers continue to wash out badly with every rain only to have more dirt added to them. Used to be the city parks department built and repaired them …..what ever happened to that??

Here’s a message…Walkovers are used by Fernandina Beach residents, Nassau county residents and out of town visitors alike.

Start with the ones torn down and get it done.

Joe Blanchard
Joe Blanchard(@jlblan2)
3 years ago

The first thing that should be considered is why does the City keep paying for studies about projects we can’t afford. That money could be used to maintain the assets we already have. It is amazing to me that the City doesn’t have a beach access and walkover maintenance plan. It is not as though this issue hasn’t been around for a few years. My guess is that we will need to pay someone for a new study so they can tell us what to do.

Teri D. Springer
Teri D. Springer (@guest_58773)
3 years ago

All I know is that, when they tore down our access (#40) we were promised it would be replaced ASAP. Well, I guess we should have asked the Commission to define both “replaced” and “ASAP”.

Replaced seems to be considered roping off a very narrow, very dangerous (due to constant erosion and LARGE, DEEP holes) path. We have had to call repeatedly to have the holes filled in. In the meantime the city is risking a lawsuit because someone is going to get hurt and/or further destruction of the dunes there as people who see the hole in time are just stepping outside the boundaries of the path and walking over the dunes.

ASAP…well, a more nebulous term you could not find…Probably can expect our crossover to be rebuilt about the same time as the fishing pier in Ft. Clinch.

Jack Knocke
Jack Knocke (@guest_58774)
3 years ago

Seriously? March 15, 2019 a study was completed identifying 12 walkovers that needed to be closed for repair or replacement – 17 months ago. This was after years of neglect. So in the last 17 months there was no meeting, no research, no planning, no funding? A few have been repaired and a few have been rebuilt. Why has Chip Ross not charged Dale Martin to do to put options together? That would require Dale to hire a consultant. Here we go again.

So, Commissioner Ross suggests

Brandon Farmand
Brandon Farmand (@guest_58775)
3 years ago

The article misses the boat, by only focusing on replacements of the ones torn down. Any plan that doesn’t begin with an annual allocation of money for current maintenance is doomed. Keep the good ones, good and add replacements into the capital expenditure budget over the next 5 years.

Kathy Gardner-Brown
Kathy Gardner-Brown (@guest_58786)
3 years ago

Safe the Dunes. Since you are charging for out of staters for use of beach. Why not the Dunes.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
3 years ago

Uhhh Kat, how are out of state beach users being charged?

Carlos Bustabad
Carlos Bustabad (@guest_58789)
3 years ago

Whatever happened to the adopt a walkway that I proposed to the city commissioners two years ago? They all said they would take up the issue and talk about it more with me in the future. Never heard from them again after Several emails and phone calls. All talk and no walk.

Larry Hale
Larry Hale (@guest_58798)
3 years ago

The beach Access walkovers need to be wider as you can not get a beach cart past with people coming in each direction. They now provide no space for this. I have seen people injured in passing unintentional of course. Please allow this in planning will help prevent roadblocks and injuries.

Evan Nosbig
Evan Nosbig (@guest_58802)
3 years ago

Thanks Larry, we got it. 🙂

Frank Quigley
Active Member
Frank Quigley(@frank-quigley)
3 years ago

This is yet another of the many symptoms of the larger malaise here in Fernandina Beach. Going up to the 40,000 feet view, it ties in with the city of Fernandina Beach’s inability to plan and prioritize – or making decisions to support the greater good. Our city leaders play small ball, and lack the broader vision needed to govern.

Beach walkovers score at the top of ANY priority list, regarding services provided by the City. The beach is arguably the primary attraction in Fernandina Beach – it is there for residents, local visitors and tourists. It is 100% democratic (small D) in that it is available all and its use comes with few if any associated costs. Beach walkovers are a need, an expectation. The issue of accessibility can be addressed. Do all walkover points need to be ADA compliant? No but a reasonable number of them should be and this includes land-side access and the ability to cross and then be able to get to the water. 

This will cost big money, and with little doubt one of the places the city of Fernandina Beach should be spending its money. But our City Manager and Commissioners blindly spend money in low priority areas. When challenged, it’s de rigueur for them to simply brush off the questions. Which include – essentially – why is the City continuing on its 3-year hiring spree, why can’t we reduce our expenditure on fleet vehicles, why are we in the process of buying residential lots in the name of conservation, and why is the marina in such a financial hole? Did I mention that in order to continue this unchecked bloat the City plans to raid its Reserve Fund for the pending 2020-2021 budget? Do we have a “limited budget” or do we have a budget that is out of whack? I could go on. 

All while the Peck Center, The Atlantic Recreation Center and beach walkovers are left to rot?

And now, true to form, Commissioner Ross puts it out there including asking “Do we want to borrow money for more traditional walkovers?“ His estimate is around $9 million. Do we take this at face value – and do we agree it’s okay for the City to just add it to our tab which includes FB marina debt? Er, no. No we do not. What we want the City to do is to cut bloat from its bureaucracy and invest in basic services as well as infrastructure. Show us a long-term plan that includes repair, new construction and maintenance. It needs to be addressed now.

It should also be addressed – by citizens – in the upcoming elections. Let’s vote in commissioners who demonstrate a true understanding of the need for fiscal prudence and discipline.

EJ Kelly
EJ Kelly (@guest_58819)
3 years ago

….the common denominator in all of these FB issues seems to be a complete lack of quality, organized, plan oriented leadership. As I have stated before, folks enter into governmental office for 1 of 2 reasons…agenda or ego. In FB, it appears we have a collection of egos.

Specific to this topic, if you know how many walkovers need to be maintained, the typical lifespan of a walkover and you know the general cost of doing so, then a plan should be in place whereby money is allocated annually to properly repair a limited number of them each year on a rolling basis. If it costs $7.2mm to repair/ replace walkovers and you have 48 of them, that is $150K per walkover (seems insane high, but whatever). If you did 10 walkovers annually, it would cost $1.5mm per year and you could replace each one about once every 5 years.

Personally, I like the “goat path” route….natural and cheap.

Jack Knocke
Jack Knocke (@guest_58825)
3 years ago
Reply to  EJ Kelly

EJ, you hit the nail on the head….”complete lack of quality, organized, plan oriented leadership.” It starts with the City Manager and Commissioner Ross. You get a goat trail or $9.7 million for walkovers. Get real.