By Mike Lednovich
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to move the Amelia River navigational channel adjacent to the Port of Fernandina and bordering the northern docks of the city’s marina at no cost to either entity. Moving the channel is important to the city in the event marina docks are damaged by a storm and have to be relocated.
The relocation of the channel, about 150 feet to the west, would also allow for future expansion of the city marina to the north, which has deeper water and requires no dredging.
The decision was announced at the Ocean Highway and Port Authority meeting Wednesday.
“I literally received a call about 15 minutes before the start of our meeting from the Corps of Engineers regarding channel realignment,” said Port of Fernandina Director David Kaufman. “The Corps has determined the channel can be moved at no cost to OPHA or the city. It will be totally funded by the government.”
Kaufman said the Corps of Engineers was sending a letter to OHPA and that the matter could then be acted on at its December meeting.
The channel relocation was approved by the U.S. Congress in 2001, but it’s been two decades of negotiations between the Corps of Engineers, the city and OHPA at various times trying to agree on a go-forward plan that included how the project would be funded.
In January 2022, the Fernandina Beach City Commission voted to approve Resolution 2022-06, an Interlocal Agreement with the OHPA as the sponsor of the navigational channel in the Amelia River. OHPA had voted to approve this agreement at its December 2021 meeting with the stipulation that the city assumed all responsibility for costs as assigned by the Army Corps of Engineers. Those costs could have included the city paying millions for necessary dredging of the new channel location.
Those dredging costs would have been likely, given that the Corps of Engineers has not paid any costs associated with the maintenance of the navigational channel since approximately the mid-1980s.
The current location of the channel became an issue for the city in 2018 as it tried to repair docks that had been damaged by back-to-back hurricanes in 2016 and 2017. The Corps of Engineers halted the repairs, declaring that the replaced docks were intruding into the navigation channel. The city eventually obtained a special variance from the Corps of Engineers and the repairs proceeded.
Although Wednesday’s announcement will eventually allow the city to expand its marina northward into deep water, such an expansion would cost the city millions to accomplish.