Commentary: Another Close Call

By Faith Ross

Luck was with Amelia Island again as the predicted heavier winds and heavy rainfall from Hurricane Ian did not materialize. However, flooding, once again, pummeled downtown Fernandina. Tropical storm force winds pushed the Amelia River waters into the marina, the rail lines and local businesses.

One of the easiest methods of documenting flooding is to locate the wrack lines from flood waters. For newbies to the island, a wrack line is organic material (such as seagrass) and other debris that is left behind at high tide. It is often seen at the beach, but could easily be seen Friday morning in front of the Salty Pelican. Following the downtown’s wrack line of debris from the river’s flooding on Friday morning was very revealing.

Wrack line at the Salty Pelican.

At the south end of the city’s new seawall, the wrack revealed that the waters came in heavily around the south end of the wall. Due to a north wind, the flood waters flowed heavily into the adjacent wetlands and over the road to David Cook’s property and into the rail car staging area next to Rayonier.

Seawall grasses

Though some may be skeptical of a seawall, there was no wrack or wrack line behind the city’s newly constructed seawall. As a result of the seawall and the grasses, the parking lots behind the wall received no flooding and no damage. The metal gates sealed the wall’s openings, and the grasses that took a beating from the wave action looked no worse for wear.

At the north end of the seawall (just north of Atlantic Seafood) the boat ramp, Atlantic Seafood, the marina guest facilities building and part of Ash Street flooded. The boat ramp literally ceased to exist. The wrack line covered the sidewalk and rail tracks in front of the hotel at Ash and the train depot at Centre Street. Then it wandered down Centre Street, a third of the way between Second and Front Street. At one point Brett’s became an island as the tracks behind it were flooded.

Many of us know that Front Street floods in a very high tide, so there was no surprise in finding heavy, deep wrack material on Front Street. Its depth required the use of a city front-end loader to remove the deep blanket of brown plant debris.

Worker cleaning up at the marina’s guest services area.

As a marina worker pushed the flood waters out of the marina’s flooded guest services area (which houses the marina’s restrooms and showers), one has to ask how many times the marina’s buildings can be cleaned and repaired after flooding before they fall apart? How many more times can the Atlantic Seafood be submerged and be hygienically safe for food sales? How high does the water need to get to submerge the unprotected Salty Pelican, the Palace Saloon, the Decantery, the jewelry shop, the historic train depot, the fudge and ice cream store? How high does the water need to be to flood City Hall up Ash on Second Street? More importantly, where does city government go when its offices flood? The island only experienced tropical force winds with Ian, what will the next hurricane bring?

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Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_66108)
1 year ago

Learn from this.

Trudie Richards
Trudie Richards (@guest_66111)
1 year ago

Thank you, Faith, for so succinctly pointing out what we all must admit is an obvious rhetorical question. What more must we do? We are on the cusp of unavoidable climate catastrophe; the least we can do NOW is to mitigate damages in the interim.

Robert Prager
Robert Prager (@guest_66112)
1 year ago

You are correct. All around the nation communities are developing and executing Coastal Storm Risk Management plans. Luck is not an effective strategy!

Dave Scott
Dave Scott (@guest_66114)
1 year ago

Agreed! Lets all show some trust, support and give a massive round of thanks to our community leaders who have been tirelessly trying to address these issues for many years.

Dave Scott
Dave Scott (@guest_66118)
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave Scott

Dave Scott?

Christine Harmon
Christine Harmon (@guest_66115)
1 year ago

How high could the water rise? How many businesses, residential homes, and infrastructure could be impacted? How costly and disruptive could this be? How long can people who live in identifiable risk areas expect to be compensated for losses by people who do not live there? At some point, the people/communities who live in environmentally threatened areas need to absorb the costs of mitigation – or move. Stop displacing your costs onto others. (“Full Disclosure: My husband and I lived on AI, recognized the risks of living on a barrier island, and left.)

Dave Scott
Dave Scott (@guest_66119)
1 year ago

You don’t live here anymore Ms. Harmon., so put a lid on it. Nobody cares what you think.

R I b
R I b(@bob-tankel)
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave Scott

Her moving has nothing to do with the issue posed. How often do we allow flood plains to be rebuilt instead of allowing rivers to take their course. The legislature has completely failed to address insurance issues in the state. We have a lack of leadership and accountability.

Tammi Kosack
Tammi Kosack(@tammi-kosack)
1 year ago

Excellent points made by the 3 commenters before me. The next rhetorical questions are numerous: When do we as a community take agency over our own unique situation and support (demand) our elected officials to proceed accordingly? Do people really care and/or understand the long-term planning and commitment needed to protect ourselves?

We cannot continue to rely on insurance or FEMA to rebuild what will continually be damaged by the next storm. How do we break down the myopic silos in both city government and in the community at large that focus solely on the short-term items du jour and leave the elephant (which comes with an elephant-sized price tag) on the table? 

How can we as citizens yell and scream about a rusting slide and in the next breath complain that too much money is being spent on  shoreline stabilization when that very wall may save what we call home? That wall may not be beautiful but it did it’s job. And the “belt and suspenders approach” of having both the concrete wall with flood gates (gray infrastructure) and the living shoreline with sea grasses and oyster beds (green infrastructure) is an excellent example of resilient redundancy that can be used to protect ourselves.

How do we foment widespread citizen excitement and support to protect our fair city? I believe at the heart of all heated discussions and debates regarding our town, lies a love of place.  Let’s work together to guard and protect what we love. 

Pam Hart
Pam Hart (@guest_66117)
1 year ago

At the rate we are cutting down mature trees and shrubs on Amelia Island, we will have very little to soak up storm waters in the future. The current rate of development is unsustainable for the island.

Jennifer (@guest_66124)
1 year ago

I dont live there but I have seen the changes on Hilton Head and growth makes the island more vulnerable. I am hoping to move to AI in a year and have been watching all the weather and growth. The Island needs to stay the way it is because the building will destroy this beautiful place. As far as climate change, everyone needs to do the research like I have and there is a change and I am sure we are not helping but mother nature is going to change as it has for thousands of years no matter what we do. I can’t wait to move there and help keep the beaches there beautiful and work with the turtle protectors. One last thing please keep the commercial side out keep it the beautiful special place it is, commercial is what ruined Hilton Head for me, it is way way over populated now. I know I got off topic but mother nature is going to do what she going to do and we just need to protect ourselves shes been doing this for many years and it has never gotten worse or better it is what it is.

Wende Burdick
Wende Burdick(@wendeburdick)
1 year ago

Thank you for getting this post Ian conversation started Faith. Christine is actually right that we live on a high risk barrier island so residents do need to take responsibility for making it more resilient against the storms that don’t pass us by. Most have busy lives and feel they don’t have time to learn what is needed to mitigate the environmental risks and to join together to save Amelia. If we can’t find the time to support these efforts, we may one day not have an island to return to after the storm has passed. A great way to start would be to support the land conservation referendum on the November ballot.

Robert Prager
Robert Prager (@guest_66126)
1 year ago
Reply to  Wende Burdick

Some land is on this planet to be land. It is developed and does not need to be developed by man.