Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 7, 2019 – 10:50 a.m.
Phase II – Main Beach Boardwalk
In 2012 shifting sands and migrating dunes were the underlying reasons for the state’s determination that the Main Beach Boardwalk in Fernandina Beach needed to be elevated and moved westward of its existing location. This ruling was controversial with the public and met significant opposition from the Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) at the time. Plans for Phase I of the reconstruction were approved in 2013, despite opposition from some commissioners. But plans for Phase II — the final phase — were left languishing in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan for years, primarily due to a lack of funding for the project.
A recent ruling by City Attorney Tammi Bach has allowed the city to free up money from the Parks and Recreation Impact fees to complete the project. These are fees paid in connection with new building projects to pay for public amenities needed to support population growth. Bach ruled that the use of Parks and Recreation Impact Fees for Phase II of the Main Beach Boardwalk meets the requirements for expenditure of impact fees under Section 163.31801, Fla. Stats. and Section 2-460 of the City Code of Ordinances. Prior to this ruling, the city operated with the understanding that these funds could be used only on new projects. Bach has opined that there is a rational nexus or rational relationship between the growth from development and need for Phase II of the Boardwalk to be constructed to accommodate beachgoers.
At their March 5, 2019 Regular Meeting, the current FBCC Commissioners voted unanimously to restart Phase II of the Main Beach Boardwalk construction by reviewing the design and re-permitting the project, which has been approved by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.
It took the FBCC about a minute to unanimously approve the project.
In another beach-related item before the FBCC at the same meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to approve Resolution 2019-45, to fund construction of new beach walkovers to enhance the protection of dunes and ease of access at Ocean Avenue public beach access #’s 9N, 8N and 2S, again using Parks and Recreation Impact Fees. The motion approved also called for rebidding repair and extension of walkovers at Beach Accesses 35S and 40.
Commissioner Chip Ross said that while he agreed that Parks and Recreation Impact Fees should be used for beach walkovers, he took issue with funding these particular walkovers. He said that the city has 23 walkovers in need of repair with two that need to be replaced and extended (35S and 40). He claimed that the city’s budget only allows $50,000 for maintenance of existing walkovers and no money for construction of new walkovers. He said he saw no justification for adding three new walkovers as provided for in the resolution as opposed to building new ones at other beach access points. He said there was no plan for management of the proposed structures along Ocean Avenue, adding that they had not been vetted by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAC).
He suggested alternatively that the city fund replacement and repair of Beach Access 40, already approved by PRAC. He said, “My concern is that we can’t take care of what we already have.”
Vice Mayor Len Kreger, who sponsored the resolution as written, explained that House Bill 3635 recommends that the state of Florida fund the three walkovers on Ocean Avenue. Kreger said that this action was approved unanimously by a previous FBCC, and that as part of beach renourishment funding, the city is required to maintain these accesses. Kreger said that the resolution would fund the city’s cost share for the project. He said that data had been provided previously, and that this area had been chosen because it is in the most jeopardy from repetitive storm damage in the city.
Kreger went on to say that the city has 13 identified beach walk throughs. The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) is expected to release a study later this spring calling for the filling in of all the walk throughs. He did not disagree that walkovers at 35S and 40 should also be funded.
“But I think we send the wrong message to the state, when we ask for a cost share if we are not willing to pay our share,” Kreger said.
Ross asked why these walkovers could not be placed on hold until the legislature takes action. He stressed that engineering for Beach Access 40 has already been done, and that the project is “shovel ready.”
Kreger reminded commissioners that Beach Accesses 35S and 40 had been put out for bid with a price tag of $100,000, but the bids received were almost $400,000.
Kreger moved passage of the Resolution as written with the amendment that the city move forward to rebid the repair and extension of walkovers at Beach Accesses 35S and 40. Commissioner Phil Chapman seconded the motion.
Commissioner Mike Lednovich said that he was in a quandary, because he had no back up material explaining history and costs in his agenda packet. Kreger explained that all this need was justified and explained in September 2018 when the FBCC placed the item on the state agenda, prior to Lednovich’s election.
Kreger said that the city would not be required to pay its share until the state passes its budget and begins its new fiscal year in July.
City Manager Dale Martin added that an assessment of all the city’s beach walkovers is underway and will be completed and prioritized this week with those presenting imminent danger at the top of the list.
Mayor John Miller asked if any members of the community had come forward to express a willingness to help fund/repair beach accesses. Kreger said that Westrock has expressed a willingness to work with the city on Beach Access 6S. Some of the work needed on city beach accesses is simple and relatively inexpensive; other work is complex and expensive.