Weekly comments from Dale Martin – Beach Access Committee Report anticipated in April

By Dale Martin
City Manager
Fernandina Beach
March 18, 2021

City Manager Dale Martin

Several months ago, I solicited applications (through print and online media) from residents interested in serving on a Beach Access Committee. The intent of the Beach Access Committee was to provide specific recommendations to the City Commission (through me) regarding the construction of beach walkovers.

In 2019, a professional engineer examined the City’s beach walkovers. The resulting report indicated that six walkovers were sufficiently structurally deficit to warrant immediately removal: the walkovers located at Beach Accesses 4N, 6N, 27, 35S, 38, and 40. In addition to the removal of those six walkovers, other beach access concerns, such as the use of stairs (often bypassed in favor of footpaths) and the general purpose of the walkovers (dune protection) were becoming issues of interest.

From the Planning Advisory Board, Ms. Victoria Robas offered to serve as the chairperson. Subsequently, Ms. Robas and I reviewed the fourteen applications received from residents and invited Ms. Bryn Byron, Ms. Emily Carmain, Mr. Mac Morris, Mr. Robert Prager, Mr. Mark Tomes, and Mr. Tom Yankus to serve on the newly constituted Beach Access Committee. Additional staff support would be provided by Ms. Lorelei Jacobs (Grants Administrator), Mr. Charles George (City Engineer), and Mr. Joseph Pitcheralle (Parks and Recreation Superintendent).

Although technically not subject to the State’s Sunshine laws (due to being appointed by the City Manager, not the City Commission), at the initial meeting of the Beach Access Committee, I instructed the Committee that I intended the Committee and its members (and City staff) to fully comply with the Sunshine laws: meeting notices would be published, meetings would be open to the public, minutes of each meeting would be maintained, and correspondence and discussion between members of the Committee would be prohibited outside of official meetings. I wish to complement the members of the Beach Access Committee for recognizing the importance of ensuring public trust and encouraging public participation.

For the most part, the Committee has met weekly since its inception. Although originally suggested to limit each meeting to ninety minutes, some of the meetings have lasted longer due to the interest, passion, and dedication of the members of the Committee. The Committee has examined, in detail, every beach access within the city limits. The Committee is nearing the completion of its work, and a report to the City Commission is anticipated in April, which will provide direction to the City Commission as the preparation of next year’s budget begins.

The Beach Access Committee’s charge was to answer three specific and narrow questions:

1. Which of the removed six beach walkovers (4N, 6N, 27, 35S, 38, and 40) should be replaced?
2. What, if any, additional beach accesses should have new walkovers constructed?
3. Utilizing the recommendations above, what is the recommended sequence to construct the walkovers?

With those recommendations in-hand, a plan will be in place for the construction (or not) of beach walkovers. Please note that grant funding has been awarded for the construction of a walkover at Beach Access 6N. That project will commence later this calendar year.

The design and cost of proposed walkovers will be subsequently developed based upon the recommended locations and sequencing for such construction. Some of the former walkovers, especially those located south of Sadler Road and Seaside Park, were lengthy. Due to the cost of full replacement and the ultimate purpose of the walkovers to protect the foredune (the dune nearest the Atlantic Ocean), a shorter walkover limited to traversing the foredune may be considered; otherwise, the significant cost of longer walkovers may greatly limit the number of walkovers that can be constructed each year.

The construction of beach walkovers is typically funded through the City’s Capital Fund (supported by a transfer from the City’s General Fund). Other beach infrastructure, such as the boardwalks at North Beach, Main Beach, and Seaside Park “compete” for funding in the Capital Fund. Additionally, the City is contemplating the management and responsibility of a lengthy privately constructed but widely publicly utilized bridge (similar in concept to a walkover) which will eventually require replacement (the current structure is approximately twenty years old). The extent of funding for these projects will be ultimately determined by the City Commission.

I look forward to Ms. Robas’ presentation and recommendations of the Beach Access Committee. Thank you to her, the members of the Beach Access Committee, and the supporting City staff for their efforts.

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