Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 24, 2021
At its March 2, 2021 workshop, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) discussed the condition of a walkway connecting the Seaside at Amelia neighborhood with Egans Creek Greenway. The Commission directed staff to develop a report on the walkway and explore the possible acquisition of the portion of private property on which the walkway terminates.
At their May 18, 2021 Regular Meeting the FBCC approved Resolution 2021-70 on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Chip Ross dissenting. The Resolution accepted the City Engineer’s report on the condition and repair needs of the walkway but stopped short of approving the acquisition of the walkway.
Cost estimates provided by City Engineer Charlie George include: $61,900.00, for handrail replacement and $10,800 per year for the next five years cost for decking maintenance.
It is yet to be determined if the City of Fernandina Beach desires to take ownership/responsibility for that entire walkway. Instead, the Resolution authorized the City Manager and the City Attorney to enter into discussions with the neighborhood to see if a mutual agreement could be reached.
The walkway is approximately 500 feet in length with about 400 feet in the City’s Right-Of-Way (ROW) and 100 feet on a private parcel in the Seaside subdivision.
The City had closed the walkway in February following reports that it had become slippery and therefore presenting slip and fall liability issues to the City. Responsibility for maintenance and repair of the walkway, which is used extensively by neighbors, is in question. Although built by the developer, a records search was unable to determine if it was initially built for the development only or at the request of the City in lieu of a road in that location.
No incident reports have been filed to date due to hazards on the walkway, but the homeowners association has indicated that people have fallen. City Attorney Bach has opined that because a records search did not clarify the ownership, the City is unable to determine whether the developer built the walkway at the request of the City. But the city is liable for accidents that occur on the portions in the City ROW.
Commissioner Chip Ross said that he would not support the Resolution, moved by Commissioner Bradley Bean and seconded by Vice Mayor Len Kreger, because he believed that taking over responsibility for repair and upkeep of the walkway could be “making a promise we cannot keep.” He said,“We would be taking on another liability for the City of approximately $450K. The City is struggling to maintain its current assets. Before agreeing to enter into negotiation, I would like to know how we are going to reallocate or increase revenue to pay for it.”
Mayor Mike Lednovich, who had initially raised this issue at the March 2 workshop, said, “We are not going to go down that road.”
Ross asked, “May I ask why not?’
Lednovich said, “Because the motion we are considering is whether to enter into negotiations on possibly taking responsibility for the walkway.”
Ross countered, “Why would we spend City staff’s time and effort if we are not willing to support a way to fund it?”
Lednovich said that the City was not yet at the point to consider Ross’ concerns and moved on.
Ross emphasized that he was not against the project, but that he was opposed to negotiating about it until a revenue source was identified.