Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 17, 2018 – 3:15 p.m.
At every Fernandina Beach City Commission meeting, boaters who rely on the City Marina to earn their living voice their concerns over the current state of the facility. Whether their concerns highlight the siltation problems, the absence of fueling and pump out facilities or effects on their revenue stream, their frustrations continue to mount. Much work has been done behind the scenes to get the problems resolved, but there is little visible evidence of that to either the boaters or the general public, who have been faced with this adversity since the visit of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
Repairs have been held up by government red tape (FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers) and finances. But there is optimism that the situation, which has existed since October 2016, is about to change.
City Manager Dale Martin announced at the May 15, 2018 Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) that several actions are underway. First of all, the city’s marina consultant, Robb Semmes has rated three firms as qualified to bid the design build project to rebuild the marina’s south attenuator (breakwater dock) under an RFQ that closed on May 11. These three firms will be solicited to bid the project, with the assumption that the City will shortly receive a permit via the Army Corps of Engineers’ 408 Process to proceed.
Commissioner Chip Ross placed a discussion item on the May 15, 2018 FBCC meeting agenda to get agreement from commissioners on a way forward to restoring operations marina. He outlined his thoughts and recommendations in an opinion piece published in the Fernandina Observer recently. He dismissed two of the options—selling the marina or doing nothing. Of the remaining 3 options, he recommended moving forward with the proposal presented by ATM: remove the docks perpendicular to the shore in the south basin, dredge the area between the attenuator and the shore, add a long pier parallel to the attenuator replacing the perpendicular docks. He also recommended borrowing the money needed to do the work.
At the request of Mayor John Miller, City Manager Dale Martin updated the FBCC on city efforts to date. He said that Ross’ recommendation was actually a recitation of what the FBCC had reviewed and approved in August 2017. He said that repairing the attenuator and reconfiguring the perpendicular docks are included in the current year’s budget. He presented a slide from the August 2017 ATM presentation that outlined the project schedule.
The actual design/build award will be made in July. With the anticipation that work will begin immediately, the city will hope to achieve economies in dredging costs by having that work done at the same time. Martin reported that with the current timetable, he expects the attenuator to have been fixed, the south basin dredged and the new dock configuration in place by the end of April 2019. At the June 5 FBCC meeting, he will request approval for a bond to seek a line of credit in the amount of $6.6M, the bulk of which will be reimbursed by FEMA. The line of credit will enable the city to make other marina improvements as well.
Mayor Miller said, “What Commissioner Ross is proposing is exactly what we decided to do [in August 2017]. Let’s not beat a dead horse.”
Commissioner Roy Smith said that while he was not proposing to beat a dead horse, he did want to say that Ross was not expressing a new idea. He reminded commissioners that he had said last year that by postponing the dredging to coincide with repairs, the city would in effect be guaranteeing an unusable south basin. “It came true,” he said, “and I knew it would. We’ve got to get this done.”
Vice Mayor Kreger agreed with Smith, but noted a minor change to the plan with the FBCC’s decision to pursue investigation and potential repairs to the breakwall. He cited possible funding sources in the form of grants to help with expenses.
Ross emphasized that the anticipated repairs to the south basin of the marina would help alleviate the dredging problem, but not eliminate it. “It will hopefully change the quantity and frequency of dredging needed,” he said. He agreed with other commissioners that what he had presented was not his idea, but represented ideas that have been talked about. He indicated that he just wanted to remind the City Manager of the need to get the matter fixed by next spring.
While it initially appeared that there was consensus to move in the direction presented, Commissioner Phil Chapman said that he believed that the city should at least explore the possibility of selling the marina. “Will the city financially support [the marina] in the long run?” Chapman asked. “We’ve already heard that dredging will need to continue. Is it worth putting out there [a sale of the city marina]?”
Mayor Miller said that since the marina had been placed on the agenda as a discussion item, he believed that any discussion of a potential sale would need to be placed on a future agenda so that the public would have an opportunity to provide input.
Discussion focused entirely on the south basin of the marina. Questions of extending the marina north into deep water were left to the future, since they are heavily dependent on both additional funding and Army Corps of Engineers permits.
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.