Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 12, 2018 4:30 p.m.
During their April 11, 2018 Regular Meeting, the Nassau County Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) voted to support the City of Fernandina Beach in its request for a variance from current guidelines of the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) in order to allow the city to proceed with marina repairs. The unanimous vote of support came with a condition: that the city would assume all costs for any dredging required in making the necessary repairs.
The City of Fernandina Beach was well represented at the OHPA meeting. City Manager Dale Martin spoke on behalf of the city. Four City Commissioners—Vice Mayor Len Kreger, Philip Chapman, Chip Ross and Roy Smith—also attended, as well as City Marina Manager Joe Springer. Also endorsing the request for a “408 permit” was Florida Inland Navigation Department (FIND) Commissioner Lynn Williams.
The city has already filed a request for the so-called “408 process/permit,” which if approved would allow the city to repair the city marina’s south basin attenuator (breakwater) at its current location, approximately 70 feet from the federal navigation channel. The action was required to obtain the necessary permit, since the existing location does not comply with current ACE guidelines that require a distance of 100 feet from the channel. Since OHPA is the local sponsor of the federal channel, their endorsement of the city’s request is a key factor in ACE’s decision to grant this request for a variance from current guidelines.
OHPA Commissioner Robert Sturgess, who proposed the amendment, appeared to have reservations about approving the requested action. He said that he had met with representatives of the Pilots Association who advised against the action. FIND Commissioner Lynn Williams countered by saying that he had spoken earlier in the day with Pilot Bill Kavanaugh who strongly supported the action. Williams also spoke to Sturgess’ concerns on dredging, claiming that the amendment was not necessary because these concerns were already addressed in the action currently underway. Williams and City Manager Dale Martin explained that if at some future time the ACE needed to reactivate the channel, which has not been used for ocean going ships since the 1980’s, the city would need to comply even if it meant removing marina docks.
Out of an abundance of caution, OHPA Commissioners decided to retain Sturgess’ amendment. With their unanimous vote to support the city’s action, OHPA agreed to send a letter under Chair Adam Salzburg’s signature to ACE affirming their support in writing.
Channel Shoaling Report
In other action before OHPA, ACE representatives Beau Corbett and Brian Price presented the results of a shoaling analysis recently completed for the port channel. Results showed that the north part of the channel from the turning basin to the ocean showed little change from the last survey done in 2003. The last dredging of that portion of the channel occurred in 2000. Material is not accumulating in the main channel, possibly due to routine dredging being conducted in the Navy channel to the north.
Corbett explained that the authorized channel depth is 28-36 feet, whereas the depth of the Navy channel is 50+2 feet. He explained the significant costs associated with dredging, which include permitting, mobilization, dredging and disposal of spoils. It is an expensive, time consuming operation that would be triggered by an OHPA request, should it see the need to dredge all or parts of the channel.
Wade Sansbury, OHPA’s independent auditor from the firm Mauldin & Jenkins, presented the annual financial report (audit) for fiscal years ending September 30, 2017 and 2016. Sansbury commended both OHPA Administrator Joanna Cason and Treasurer Pierre LaPorte for their diligence and record keeping as well as for their cooperation with the audit. Sansbury said that the audit found no significant issues related to business conditions, plans or strategies that may have affected the risk of material misstatement of the financial statements. The auditor found no material or significant discrepancies during the audit.
Pre Meeting Workshop
Immediately prior to the Regular Meeting OHPA commissioners met in workshop session for a briefing from the firm of Bryant Miller Olive representatives on municipal bonds. Director Julie Santamaria and Shareholder Duane Draper walked commissioners through a crash course in municipal bonds, explaining what they are, how they may be used, and how they are issued.
The briefing team explained the roles and responsibilities of the many parts of a finance team, whose members in addition to others include bond counsel, the borrower, underwriter and lender in preparing and issuing a bond.
They addressed market conditions and many factors that must be considered by all parties in deciding to issue a bond.
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.