Port-City Meeting Worked in More Ways Than One

By Mike Phillips

The city commission and port executives and commissioners had a mutually respectful and mutually useful meeting Wednesday evening. And if you know the history of tensions between those two bodies, you know something newsworthy has happened.

The port is closing in on its new master plan, which will get a public showing and discussion at a Jan. 26 open house. The most notable takeaways in the emerging version are the deleted items:

  • The idea of looping truck traffic in on Dade Street and out on Escambia Street is dead.
  • The idea of expanding the dock is dead.
  • The idea of dredging the federal channel deeper to accommodate large vessels is dead.

Some peace-making items — either new or more clearly spelled out — have been added:

  • The port is firmly committed to not expanding its boundaries, and some out-of-port parcels in the historic district will be sold for residential construction.
  • Although the port hopes to bring in more passenger cruise ships, it will focus on the small luxury market and will use existing tourism companies to take cruise visitors on pre-registered trips. Passengers going downtown will be transported to and from the dock along Front Street. Passengers going anywhere else will be taken down Dade Street and out on Eighth Street.
  • The port will work with the city and private landowners along Front Street to protect and improve the waterfront.
  • The port is committed to an improved system of moving trucks in and out of the port, including a goal of staging trucks remotely so they don’t stack up on Dade Street. And a goal of finding new opportunities of using rail, instead of truck, movement of cargo through the city.

After the Jan. 26 open house, the final master plan will be submitted to port commissioners in February and then, once accepted by those commissioners, will be submitted to Fernandina Beach commissioners.

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bob (@guest_66770)
8 months ago

wonderful news. Even the use of gate-scheduling software is under consideration. This would go a long way to solving the need for queuing truck traffic along Dade Street. Selling the vacant lots is a HUGE sign of good faith from the new operators and Commissioners.

Faith Ross
Faith Ross(@faith-ross)
8 months ago

Would like to thank the many citizens who spent MANY hours lobbying to bring relief to their neighborhoods and to reduce the truck traffic concerns. New port leadership needs to be complimented for working with the citizenry. Details are still out on the development of the cruise ship business at the port.

anne (@guest_66782)
8 months ago

Thanks for the report; I could not get to the meeting.

Roger Conrad
Roger Conrad(@conrad2k)
8 months ago

I found the commission chairperson to be defensive and condescending. While they talked up the economic benefits of the cruise ships, they were completely unable to quantify that benefit in terms of dollars and cents. Face it, cruise passengers have paid for their meals and probably drinks on board, so that’s where they eat and drink. They only stay for the day, so the only economic benefit might be the items they buy in the shops on Center St. Our usual tourists stay in local lodging, eat in local restaurants, drink in local watering holes and shop all over the island. The cruises bring very questionable benefit to our community and OHPA who doesn’t pay taxes or per passenger fees to the city. Where is the benefit to the community? The port operator representative was very diplomatic, but it was clear that their business was cargo and gave a distinct impression that the cruise ships were not a big deal to them. Maybe it was just Ragucci idea that OHPA can’t bring themselves to abandon?

They didn’t seem to fully embrace the idea of a designated staging area for ALL trucks somewhere away from the port. Ideally all trucks should be required to report to on offsite waiting area until they receive an authorization to drive to the Port, where they could have an arrival time slot and an escort if needed. They should never be showing up unannounced at the gate at 4:30 AM and idling until they are allowed entry. That is not only annoying to the neighborhood residents, but a potential security risk to the port.

If you are interested in OHPA and how it impacts our community, attend the OHPA Master Plan review for the public on January 26, 2023 at the Peck Center- Willie Mae Ashley Auditorium 516 S 10th St. from 5:00PM to 7:00PM