In Your Face: Port Operator Ignores Agreed Warehouse Location

By Mike Lednovich

Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) commissioners found themselves in the proverbial “between a rock and a hard space” after the company that runs the port erected a massive storage tent in a different location than had previously been approved.

Homeowners on North Third Street who had enjoyed unobstructed views of the Amelia River now gaze at the enormous white fabric structure.

OHPA officials were informed Wednesday that dismantling the fabric warehouse and relocating it to its original intended location would cost an estimated $600,000.

“Shame on you. You could have stopped this!” shouted one angry resident as homeowners filed out of the OHPA meeting when no action was taken to address their concerns.

Last August, the port announced it would start building a 100-foot by 250-foot tent with available funding through a state grant on the northeast quadrant of the port complex. A second tent would be built as additional funds became available. The original plan was approved by OHPA at its September meeting.

“I am concerned that if OHPA does not make the port operator have the warehouse moved to the approved location, Savage (the operator) will feel it has the green light to do whatever it wants to do at the Port,” wrote North Third Street homeowner Bob Virtue in an email to OHPA. “For example, would Savage make the decision to enhance revenue and bring hazardous materials into the Port thereby potentially jeopardizing the residents and others in the neighborhood around the Port, including St. Michael’s School?”

Virtue told the Observer that besides homeowners, area residents frequently walked North Third Street to enjoy the view of the river and marshes. “Now that’s gone,” he said.

OHPA members were united in castigating port operator Savage/Nassau Marine Terminal’s decision to build the warehouse at it current location without seeking approval from the OHPA commission.

The adjacent neighborhood has fended off numerous port proposals that would have a detrimental impact on the historic community. The port has wanted to expand its footprint; sought to have passenger ships as a new business; had numerous stored cement bags leak and spread cement dust over the houses; had trucks backed up on Dade Street in the early morning hours; and OHPA is selling port owned property in the neighborhood.

Nassau Marine Terminal manager Kyle Clark told commissioners that he had informally told them of the change of location during a congressional tour of the port in February by Congressman Aaron Bean.

“The discussion was had with OHPA minus Commissioner Fullwood on the day we were touring the representatives,” Clark said. “We said hey, right outside the window (of the port building) we’re moving it over here and here are some of our justifications. I recognize that’s not this meeting and that’s not formal and that’s a mistake,” Clark said. “I apologize for that. It’s unfair to say there was no notification to OHPA because the conversation happened that day. I don’t want it misrepresented that the operator took free rein and did whatever they want.”

Clark’s explanation drew immediate rebuke from OHPA Chair Miriam Hill and Vice Chair Justin Taylor.

“I’m very disappointed that the rationale that is being given for such a major change to a major project, is a comment as part of an overall discussion that was an off-hand comment that the warehouse location was in a particular place that the neighbors would probably be happy with that. I think it’s reasonable for any of the (OHPA) commissioners present, was that this item would come before the board and that we would have a picture of where the warehouse is going to go before construction commenced. Instead, the path that was followed was without that proper process,” Hill said. “This warehouse is built with public funds, so it’s not at Savage’s discretion to change the approved plan. We have a grant agreement in place that governs these funds, so they would look back at the approval the board gave to determine what we build satisfies the grant agreement.”

Clark said relocating the fabric warehouse was necessitated by having to move shipping containers and other cargo to areas of the port complex that are prone to flooding or next to the fence line which is at an angle and would require additional engineering work to make it level.

“Shouldn’t Savage have done their due diligence prior to presenting this to us and know that and understand that?” Commissioner Taylor said.

Clark told the OHPA board “that by the time I was pulled into it (the project) my question was where are we going to put all these (shipping) containers? This side of the yard floods and this side of the yard tips over. That’s when I started looking for alternatives.”

Hill asked OHPA commissioners if there was any action deemed necessary regarding the location of the warehouse.

“I do not see that we should pay to have it moved or to put the burden on them (Savage) to have it moved because of the amount of money. It would be a waste of taxpayer money and a waste of their (Savage) money. We’re trying to work with them and get things done at the port,” said Commissioner Mike Cole.

Commissioner Taylor admitted he was struggling with the situation.

“I feel like where it (the warehouse) was agreed upon is where it should be,” he said. “But it doesn’t appear that everyone shares that same sentiment.”

Clark argued that moving the structure to its approved location would “be putting all of our cargo at risk. It’s a bad move all the way around. Putting it there was a terrible idea.”

Hill ended the discussion reaffirming the goal of the port. “Our focus is to keep commerce flowing at the port. Because commerce at the port services the grants to be put to bear, the public monies put to bear, it’s the reason why the port exists. We are all in favor of new business coming into the port and this warehouse supports that new business. But the process has to be followed. So this will have implications, and Savage will have to bear that because the process wasn’t followed. I don’t know what those actions will be, because we don’t know what the grant agreement requires, we don’t know if the (city building department) permit will be approved and we don’t know what other members of the community would say had this (issue) been (publicly) noticed.”

She said the issue would be on OHPA’s May agenda for further discussion.

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anna
Noble Member
anna(@anna)
23 days ago

This sure seems like the systematic abuse of power we are seeing all over this island. Don’t ask permission, ask forgiveness later.
Meanwhile, the damage is done. Can’t put back trees that have been cut, etc. It’s completely shameful!!!

Bob
Noble Member
Bob(@bob)
23 days ago

I would think the operator has insurance for such mistakes, or should fix it without using taxpayer money. If a normal contractor built a tent in the wrong location, he’d move it!
How can one little port make so many big mistakes?

Betsie Huben
Noble Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
23 days ago

The OHPA did not follow its own plan. They gave no notice to residents or the city about what they were doing. In fact, it sounds like they did not even give their own board any head’s up. City residents will be harmed by this action. They have lost their views and that will materially affect the value of their properties. Time for the city attorney and others to step up and help the tax paying residents get this sorted out.

Bob Reisner
Active Member
Bob Reisner(@bob-reisner)
23 days ago

It time to look at the big picture. The Port has no future and it has no value to Fernandina. It needs to close.

The Port loses money and has no path to profitability. The citizens of Fernandina Beach end up paying for this mess. And all a successful port would do is increase industrial traffic on an island that no longer wants factories and ports. Fernandina and Amelia Island is converting to a high end resort island that emphasizes leisure and recreational activities. The Port land is much more valuable as real estate for high end homes, condos and apartments as well as additional waterfront retail. Closing the Port would convert the real estate to low intensity real estate that would provide substantial tax revenues every year.

The only question is: “Why is it taking the city so long to come to this very obvious conclusion?”.

I’d like to know why we can’t end this never ending problem.

======

I’ve written at length about this here: https://bobreisner.substack.com/p/there-is-no-budget-problem-at-the

mmonzon
Active Member
mmonzon(@mmonzon)
23 days ago
Reply to  Bob Reisner

Yes, any serious competitive business analysis would reach the same conclusion; the Port simply cannot compete. The path forward is convoluted because WesRock and RYAM need the port operations and I believe that there were deed restrictions placed by WesRock predecessors when the land was transferred to the Port.

Joe Blanchard
Noble Member
Joe Blanchard(@jlblan2)
22 days ago

The topic of the original discussion was the placement of storage facilities that were not in the agreed location. Since approval, with discussion input from local residents, was not obtained (assuming that this article is accurate) then the operator must remove the storage facilities at their expense. This is only the correct option. They didn’t follow proper procedures. Now, as to the Bull in the China shop, discussions about our island’s future. I am a Floridian, born and raised, and find it abominable that people find our island, like it, move here, and then try to convert it into something they left. They move near a sea port (one of the deepest channels south of New York) then complain about the port’s operations and do everything they can to make it unprofitable (in the past that port was very profitable). There are complaints that some residents no longer have a view of the river because of the storage facilities. Well, hello, what part of when you purchased your property did you not realize the the property between you and the river belonged to someone else and something may be erected on it in the future. The paper mills and sea port have been here along time and if you want to change our island into something that resembles Hilton Head or Cape Cod then my best advise is to move there. We have hurricanes and people who build expensive houses on any of our waterways are due for a sad awakening when Mother Nature removes their dwellings. I know that those same people will complain about the cost of insurance and complain even more about why some thing can’t be done about their loss or poor judgement. We Floridians learned along time ago that you only build cheap shacks on waterways, visit them and enjoy them and, every once in awhile, replace them when Mother Nature removes them. I, for one, love our island and our community. Yes, it has problems but everywhere has problems. I definitely don’t want to change it’s quaintness and turn it into a place where only the very effluent can live.

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