FBCC discusses Local Mitigation Strategy and soundness of existing seawall

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Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 8, 2018 5:08 p.m.

At the request of Vice Mayor Len Kreger, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) reviewed Local Mitigation Strategy standards to ensure timely submission of grant applications for projects such as Hazard Mitigation, Pre-Disaster Assistance, Storm Surge Mitigation and Flood Mitigation. Commissioner Chip Ross also made a presentation for FBCC consideration on how to move forward addressing the various issues impeding current development of the Amelia Riverfront.

Commissioners supported Ross’ call for an engineering consultant to answer questions about the existing seawall along the Amelia River.

Kreger discusses potential grant assistance for shoreline stabilization efforts.

Kreger explained the background to the grants program established by the federal government in 2002. The city became involved with this program in 2012. He had previously criticized the city for failing to seek any of the $260M available nationally during the previous grant cycle that ended in November 2017. To be eligible for consideration for funding, projects must be scored. He presented the slide below that shows pending city grant applications for projects that have been submitted and scored. The highest score possible is 30, and the process is competitive.

Kreger explained that the city is now in a second open period until August 6, 2018 during which Hurricane Hazard Mitigation Grant funding is being awarded. He is anticipating that projects that will be seriously considered for funding during this cycle include stormwater and two generators, one for the airport and one a mobile generator for the Fire Department. A project for shoreline stabilization will also be considered. Kreger said that Congress has authorized $26M for the Gulf States alone in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

On February 28, the city applied for $75,000 in funding under the Florida Resilient Coastline Program. Kreger said that if granted, that money would address issues associated with waterfront planning such as sea level rise, flooding, storm surge, and subsidence.

Kreger said that from 2012 to 2018, the city did not apply for any of these funds. “Now we have the opportunity to seek those funds, and we are going in that direction,” he said. Kreger said that timing is critical, because with the 2020 U.S. Census, the county’s designation as small rural would change to reflect more population. That change will alter the amount of money that the city will need to put up as a match for these grants.

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City Manager Dale Martin explained that as a small county, no matching funds are required. But because of the population growth in Nassau County, the county will be included in the Jacksonville Statistical Metropolitan Area for planning purposes and for state grants. He emphasized that neither the county nor the city sought this change, but the determination will be made on a federal and state basis.

Kreger said that the city would be intensively pursuing these grants with a goal toward stabilizing 1,000 feet of shoreline along the Amelia River.

Ross expresses concerns about seawall along Amelia River.

Commissioner Ross also presented slides. He said that he is in a hurry and is focusing on getting the waterfront and the park fixed. He limited his discussion to the 207 feet of shoreline between the marina boat ramp on the south and Brett’s Waterway Café to the north. He highlighted the seawall in that area and sought input from the other commissioners on whether the city could hire an engineer to determine the condition of that seawall and estimate its remaining longevity.

Current state of seawall

Ross expressed concerns that land east of that seawall is subsiding, meaning that anything the city would propose to build between the seawall and the railroad could end up underwater. He wondered if dredging the mud against the seawall might cause the wall to collapse into the area just dredged. Ross said that the seawall was built in 1966. He went on to raise the following questions that he would like an engineering consultant to address:

• What is the life expectancy of the seawall between the boat ramp and Brett’s Restaurant Building

• To design a replacement seawall are soil borings necessary on the landward side of the seawall? • If so, how many and where?

• What is the difference between life expectancy and cost between sheet vinyl panels , sheet metal panels and concrete panels? • Are there any other options?

• How deep will the panels have to be placed?

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• Will the board walk have to be removed?

• Can a wall be built above the concrete cap to prevent storm surge invasion of Parking Lot B? • What are the options? • What heights would provide what protection against storm surge?

• Estimated costs.

Ross suggested that the city manager put together a proposal for a consultant to answer his questions and any other questions that commissioners might have. He said that he believes that the seawall must be addressed as a first step before moving forward with any other development in that area or future dredging.

Commissioner Roy Smith said that he had brought up the problems with the seawall 6-8 months ago. He suggested that the problem was probably not the wall, but the seams at the joints. He agreed that there was probably leakage through the wall, but did not believe that the wall itself was collapsing. “We definitely need to have them look behind that wall and tell us what’s happening,” Smith said. “It could be a simple fix.” But he added that the problem is also occurring in the parking lot north of Brett’s. “The engineering consultant will be well worth the money,” Smith said, “because anything we do in that area is not going to be cheap.”

Ross said that according to his research, seawalls usually last 40-50 years. “We’re a little bit beyond that,” he said. “I would like an expert to say, ‘Yes, that seawall will last another 40-60 years,’ or ‘No, it’s in danger of collapse.’” Ross said he’d like to have the consultant engaged within the next month in order to follow the timetable set up for achieving waterfront goals.

Following comments from Kreger and Commissioner Phil Chapman, Mayor John Miller declared that there was a consensus to move forward as Ross had suggested. Commissioners will look to see a formal proposal for their approval on the next FBCC meeting agenda.

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.

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