What’s With Sturges and Brett’s?

By Mike Lednovich

In his first comments since a June inspection report of the supporting substructure of Brett’s Waterway Cafe recommended that the restaurant and its adjoining deck be closed to the public until repairs can be made to make it safe, Vice Mayor David Sturges called the issue a “witch hunt.”

Kimley-Horn and Associates inspected Brett’s and said “We recommend that the building structure, pedestrian access adjacent to the structure, and the area beneath the structure be closed and cordoned off until repairs can be made to the substructure and structure.

Sturges’ comments came after Commissioner Chip Ross sought assurances in writing from the city’s insurance carrier that Brett’s Waterway Cafe – owned by the city – would still be covered as a result of the latest assessment.

“This is ridiculous. I think it’s a witch hunt to continue to harass Brett’s. I think we need to move on. We’ve got the (Kimley-Horn) report, the building official made his ruling, the city manager went over it.” Sturges said in rebuttal to Ross’ request. “There’s no risk. I’ll go out on a statement and (I’ll) go there and sleep in that thing every night with a tent right now. There’s no compromise (in the structure) we’re not putting semi tractor trailers across it.”

Kimley-Horn gave the beams and pilings it’s lowest rating as “poor.”

Kimley-Horn’s report said “Based on our observations, the historical information from the city, and the detailed information in the Hanson report from March 2022, the deterioration of the substructure appears to have gotten worse since last year. In our opinion, the substructure has surpassed its useful life and could sustain additional damage, including failure of structural elements during a weather event with high winds, storm surge, and/or waves.”

Ross pushed back on Sturges and said “I think it’s our obligation to send them (the insurance company) the report. And we want to make sure you’re aware of them and we’ve never done that. Are you going to cover us if there is an event? We informed you and you guaranteed us that we’re covered. That’s a prudent thing to do…that’s not unreasonable, that’s our obligation.”

Previously, city attorney Tammi Bach ruled that Sturges could not vote on any matters regarding Brett’s Waterway Cafe because of a conflict of interest.

According to public records, Sturges and Todd Ericksen — a bartender at Brett’s — are co-owners of Pirates Booty, a building on Beech Street that houses Sturges’ building business and Ericksen’s real estate business, Amelia Sunrise Realty.

The Fernandina News-Leader reported that in addition to co-owning Pirates Booty, Ericksen is Sturges’ real estate agent. Sturges told the News-Leader he has bought several local properties in the last year. A post on Ericksen’s Facebook account shows Sturges signing papers, declaring the city commissioner is “buying up the island one parcel at a time,” and thanking him for “trusting Amelia Sunrise Realty for all your real estate needs.”

Last March, the city commission voted to take no action on Brett’s Waterway Cafe by a 3-1 vote with Sturges recusing himself following Bach’s ruling.

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Betsie Huben
Noble Member
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
4 months ago

It is never wrong to be FOR public safety and transparency. The Horn report was very clear on the matter. They stated unequivocally the substructure is “past it’s useful life”. Further – “We recommend that the building structure, pedestrian access adjacent to the structure, and the area beneath the structure be closed and cordoned off until repairs can be made to the substructure and structure.” This is not a witch hunt. This is a professional engineering firm (one of three to be exact) giving us their data that city taxpayers asked for and paid for. No signs of any kind around Brett’s that I saw on July 4th to alert folks to possible risk. In the current volatile property insurance climate here in Florida, ignoring this engineering report and its advice will most certainly get the city cancelled if the truth is discovered and it is demonstrated the city knew of the potential risks and agreed to ignore the warnings. Do the right thing for public safety and transparency because it is literally your job to do it.

Paula M
Noble Member
Paula M(@paula-m)
4 months ago

Crying witch hunt when things don’t go your way is a convenient cop-out to not do what you’re supposed to do. it has been used so often in the past few years it is nothing more than a cliche….means absolutely nothing and masks the real issues at hand that NEED to be addressed. Time to grow up and stop hiding behind immature responses that a 12year old would make for not doing the right thing. tackle the problems at hand and prevent further and / or potential harm to the public..the taxpayers who are paying your salary.

Active Member
4 months ago
Reply to  Paula M

Agree. Crying witch hunt immediately erases credibility

Faith Ross
Active Member
Faith Ross(@faith-ross)
4 months ago

That anyone thinks that the term “witch hunt” is a relevant term in 2023 is really out of touch. I am surprised the Religious Right hasn’t banned the term’s use. They expressly disavow witches and their books. Either the users are watching a lot of reruns of Samantha, taking Harry Potter movies seriously, or silently hoping wizards will arrive to rescue them from disagreements. Also, you will note that the term is ALWAYS derogatory to women. It’s always a “WITCH hunt”, it’s NEVER a “WIZARD hunt”.