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.