The Alachua Pump Stations? Forget Them for Now

Alachua Street concrete vaults.

By Mike Lednovich

The Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board (CRAAB) was told Wednesday that an extensive stormwater capture and release system to minimize flooding in historic downtown Fernandina Beach “will never happen” and was dependent on a flood prevention wall being built along the Amelia River.

The result, they were told, is that potential developers have abandoned plans for major projects along the riverfront because of repeated flooding along Front Street during king tide and storm events.

Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Chip Ross updated CRAAB members on the latest developments of the project, which was originally planned to be completed in July 2023. The construction costs of the project have ballooned from $2 million to more than $7 million, funds the city does not have in its budget.

“That plan is never going to happen. It’s not going to happen in the foreseeable future, let’s put it that way,” Ross said.

The city has spent more than $1 million for pumping stations, the concrete vaults and other equipment needed for the original system. That equipment now sits unused without the funds available to fully construct the elaborate stormwater system.

“We had every anticipation of it (the original plan) working. We had a contractor, who under contract purchased materials and blew their bid when they realized they couldn’t get specialized jack and bore contractors to build that big of a line in a confined space,” said Jacob Platt with the city’s building department.

Platt said the city is devising a plan to either repurpose that equipment or sell it on the secondary market to recover some of those funds.

Interim City Manager Charlie George last month referenced a revised plan to get the Alachua road work, curbs, sidewalks and railroad crossing done to open the street, minus installation of the underground stormwater system, which would require the balance of funds around $5 milllion to $6 million. The revised project will use two existing drainage pipes to deal with flooding issues.

The original plan was to tunnel under the railroad tracks — called jack and bore — in order to install a bigger capacity drainage pipe. It’s the jack and bore element of the project that has driven up construction costs.

Ross told CRAAB members he had contacted 10 jack and bore contractors in northeast Florida and south Georgia and only one had offered a bid on the project.

“There’s nobody interested in this kind of a job. It’s too much hassle, too much money, too much railroad and too much annoyance. It’s just not a workable plan,” Ross said.

Ross also updated CRAAB on the progress of the flood prevention wall.

“The seawall, which the city spent $600,000 in designing, is currently before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That process will take years according to them,” Ross said.

Also, plans for voters to decide on a $14 million to $21 million bond referendum to fund the flood prevention wall were shelved by the city this year.

Ross told CRABB members, “All of this is my opinion. I’m not with the Corps, I’m not an engineer and I don’t represent the city engineer’s opinion or anybody else’s opinion. This is information I’ve been able to glean.”

CRAAB member Jenny Schaffer, who is renovating the former Standard Marine building on Second and Alachua, said developers of the properties adjacent to the waterfront are “fed up” with delays on projects that would alleviate flooding in the area.

“The developers have put their plans on hold because they’re fed up with everything that’s happened down there. I just think that’s sad. Others, who had big plans down there, now don’t want to invest down there and that’s disappointing,” she said.

There are nine lots on the east side of Front Street that potentially can be developed.

In response to CRAAB Chair Lisa Finkelstein’s question on how developers could be lured back to considering projects for the area, Schaffer said not much could be done.

“I feel all of this could have been avoidable two years ago,” Schaffer said of the original plans and the city awarding a $2 million contract to build the project. “I don’t know what you could do other than to provide them with here’s what you’re going to have to do now.”

Under city building requirements, developers currently are responsible for capturing flood waters on their properties.

Schaffer said she would have had to invest $60,000 or more for a flood water capture system on her Standard Marine project had the city not reconfigured the stormwater system project along Alachua.

“And that doesn’t include all the engineering,” she said.

CRAAB members agreed their only course of action was pushing forward efforts to have the flood prevention wall built and the underground stormwater pumping system completed as the key elements that would promote development in the Community Redevelopment Area district.

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Noble Member
5 days ago

What a cluster! I resigned from the CRAAB because it quickly became apparent that I was wasting my time. Job number one was to acquire the property rights necessary to build the wall. That should have been done 18 years ago. But no city commission in all that time has been willing to do that. If they had, they could have garnered state and federal grant funds to build the wall. With that in place everything else becomes possible. We will be electing three commissioners this year. A prime question to each of them should be: are you willing to use eminent domain to build the wall? If they are not, vote for someone else.

Trusted Member
5 days ago

I was a member of a citizens group that studied community redevelopment extensively. We published articles highlighting the tax incentives of CRA. The CRA if managed correctly could have funded this project, refresh downtown and build the seawall. A bond issue wouldn’t be needed.

talked to 4 of the 5 commissioners to gain their support.They reinstated the CRAAB and the results have not been glowing. Frankly, waterfront property owners do not trust the city. Now we are stuck with a white elephant that we will sell for pennies on the dollar.

Mark Tomes
Active Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
5 days ago

Whether that section of the waterfront gets developed or turned into public access (the latter is my preference), it is time to get serious about requiring the property owners that are holding up waterfront restoration and flood control to get on board, or get out of the way.

Betsie Huben
Famed Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
5 days ago

What are the consequences of NOT doing anything about all of this with regard to the city’s FEMA flood ratings and insurance rates?

Alan Hopkins
Noble Member
Alan Hopkins(@dawaves)
5 days ago

Why in the world would anybody put water in their bathtub without first closing the plunger?

All citizen of this city should require complete transparency on spending of their tax dollars. Somebody needs to be held accountable for all of this. But my guess nobody will be.

Thanks to all the previous council members for wasting around $3 million dollars building a storm wall that protects nothing from anything.

Water doesn’t care where your wall it cares about gravity.

Until you have buy-in from all the parties involved with property on the waterfront please don’t waste any more of our money on your so-called solutions.

And while I’m at it I’m sick and tired of straw man that nothing will be done unless we spend $25 million dollars on the next boondoggle. A blind man can see that development is still going on in the CRAAB. That’s real money spent by real people taking on real risks. Not our government wasting our tax dollars.

I want and expect a world-class waterfront. The only impediment to that is our government.

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