Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 4, 2019 4:44 p.m.
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) passed on First Reading at their April 2, 2019 Regular Meeting Ordinance 2019-09 which prohibits parking on the beach at the Sadler Road Beach Access between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Commissioner Phil Chapman added an amendment, which was which was approved with the ordinance to limit parking on the beach to 4 WD (wheel drive) vehicles.
The ordinance will not take effect unless it is passed following a Public Hearing at Second and/or Final Reading.
Commissioners spent about ten minutes discussing problems resulting from unmonitored beach parking/driving at night including damage to the beach and dunes.
Commissioner Chip Ross reminded the public that the City Manager has the authority to set hours for beach parking without benefit of the proposed ordinance. He also stated that while he is opposed to beach driving, he is concerned that limiting beach parking to 4 WD vehicles will mean that many more vehicles will need to find parking off the beach. He expressed a need for a parking plan.
Eric Hatten expressed his frustration with what he sees as the increasing number of rules being added to use of the beach. He said, “It’s almost gotten to where you have to bring a lawyer with you to make sure you are following all the rules.” He agreed with Ross about 4WD vehicles, adding that those are the vehicles that churn up the sand in which other vehicles get stuck. He also cited issues with homeowners’ encroachment of public right-of-ways along Fletcher Avenue with boulders and riprap, adding to the difficulty of finding parking.
FBPD Chief James Hurley was asked to weigh in. He reported that in season at least one vehicle per day gets stuck in the sand and needs to be towed. He said that he has seen recreational vehicles and a school bus stranded. But he agreed with Hatten who said that 4 WD vehicles do considerable damage in churning up sand. He added that some of the sand churning is done intentionally so the 4WD drivers can tow people off the beach for a fee.
The State Park at the south end of Amelia Island requires vehicles to be 4WD equipped.
Commissioners agreed with the Chief that many people mistakingly assume all wheel drive vehicles equate to 4 WD vehicles.
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.