Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
July 7, 2019 12:00 p.m.
As requested, Fernandina Beach City Manager Dale Martin reported back to the City Commission (FBCC) at the July 2, 2019 Regular Meeting following his interviews with the two firms interested in working with the city to develop the Amelia River waterfront, addressing issues related to shoreline stabilization, sea level rise, and property associated with the waterfront.
Martin reported that the focus of the two teams is significantly different. While both address shoreline resiliency, one team — Acatects — emphasizes long-term planning and economic development for the broader waterfront area; the other — Passero Associates— short-term engineering directly associated with the shoreline. He asked for direction, reminding Commissioners that their decision would have an immediate effect on the waterfront concept scheduled to be presented on August 6, 2019.
Commissioner Chip Ross quickly moved to approve the resolution (2019-111) moving forward with Passero Associates, and Commissioner Mike Lednovich seconded his motion.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger objected to this action. “I’m not quite sure why we want to hire another consultant,” Kreger said. He recapped several related projects which have already been all or partially funded and other consultant studies which have been completed or are in process. “None of these projects has happened,” Kreger said, “and it seems at significant risk to us.” He reminded commissioners that the city has not been able to proceed with additional grant requests for waterfront funding because money already allocated to the city has yet to be spent on projects.
Kreger recommended waiting for the results of the Wood study now in progress before moving on the agenda item. He also cited recent information that the Army Corps of Engineers will aggregate information available on shorelines, sea level rise and resiliency and make that data available to the city at no cost. He also referenced the recently completed stormwater master plan. “I’d like to concentrate on what we’ve got and get something done and then move forward,” Kreger said.
Commissioner Ross responded. “I ran for City Commission basically for two reasons: first, to conserve this island and the quality of life and second, to get a waterfront built.” He explained that the waterfront has two constraints: the shoreline and the railroad. He credited City Manager Martin’s work with the railroad to resolve those issues.
Ross acknowledged Kreger’s concerns, but added that they have nothing to do with the issue that is the subject of the resolution. “What Passero will provide is an engineering study telling us what options we have on the waterfront, how high it should be, from the Port of Fernandina to Rayonier Advanced Materials. “I think this is the next step, and it is essential for us in moving forward on the waterfront. Without this, we can do nothing else. We are dead in the water. There is no other study out there right now that is going to answer the specific question of what do we do with the shoreline. [Passero] will give us three options, what it’s going to take, and so on.
“Putting this off, kicking the can down the road once again, when they have said they will have the study done in seven months … I think it’s the next step to come up with a waterfront. If we don’t take this step, there is no point in even talking about a waterfront park. Without knowing what to do with the shoreline — whether it’s bulk heading, a living shoreline, or whatever — needs to be taken care of first.”
Commissioner Lednovich, who had seconded Ross’ motion to approve the resolution, backed off, saying he agreed with Kreger’s concerns on signing a contract at this time. He preferred to wait for the results of the Woods study and the City Manager’s proposal next month on a plan for the waterfront. “I’m not saying not to do it, I’m just saying I don’t think tonight is the night to do it,” Lednovich said.
Kreger continued to argue that this was not the time to award this contract. He cited the possibility of additional state funding.
Ross replied, “One of the reasons we haven’t gotten more money is because we haven’t spent the money they gave us.” He said that the City Manager cannot come up with a plan unless the shoreline is established. “Mr. Kreger, I would like you to show me where we ‘know’ what the elevation is, because there has been no study that I know of that shows that.”
Kreger said, “If you want to know the heights, just look at our stormwater plan, our [Local Mitigation Strategy]. It’s readily available.”
Ross replied, “And I have looked at that. But what it doesn’t give is the options on how you get to those feet, the relative economic impact of different heights, and so on.”
Kreger asked that the vote be called to see where the FBCC stood on the issue. The resolution naming Passero was approved on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Ross and Chapman and Mayor Miller voting in favor; Vice Mayor Kreger and Commissioner Lednovich opposed.
There were no presentations from the applicants and no public comment. Both Acatects and Passero submitted two proposals each, which are available on the city’s website under the agenda for the July 2 meeting.
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.