Dangerous Port Issues — Known for a Year — Now Being Addressed

Port’s truck dock roof cited as severely unsafe by R&M.
The report documented a failing bollard, buckling warehouse walls and exposed underground electrical wiring.
Rusted out container crane handrail.

By Mike Lednovich

A facility assessment of the Port of Fernandina found conditions of failing buildings and supporting infrastructure that posed severe hazards to employees, including “potential death.”

The inspection conducted last December by R&M Consulting Engineers also documented 20 instances where buildings, supporting columns, stairways/railings were in such poor condition “structures may not withstand major wind.” The report stated, “Continued operation in the present condition may result in failure sometime in the future or is a safety hazard.”

The detailed R&M document was never made public by Port Operator Savage/Nassau Marine Terminal or the Ocean Highway and Port Authority. The report’s findings also were never reviewed by OHPA specifically and some repairs were discussed only in general terms.

The five most hazardous examples documented by R&M were rated “high severity.” R&M said in its rating “that structure may fail from normal operating conditions or misuse. Continued operation in the present condition poses a severe hazard, including potential death.”

OPHA said it has been monitoring the port operator Savage/Nassau Marine Terminal on repairs of the deficiencies. Savage had commissioned and paid for the R&M complex assessment.

OHPA Chair Miriam Hill said she discovered the R&M assessment report last January while searching the Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA) website, a depository of municipal securities data and documents. Hill said she placed the report on the January OHPA agenda and progress results were discussed at each subsequent OHPA meeting.

“Commissioner (Ray) Nelson has been tracking repairs in detail as part of his facilities committee report. We have been advised that the most severe items have been addressed, although there are several items that are still outstanding,” Hill stated in an email.

The R&M Needs Assessment Report was not included in the January OHPA meeting packet and has never been made available by OHPA.

In an email Tuesday, Hill said the R&M report was due to be discussed at OHPA’s February meeting, but that she failed to raise the topic.

“The report was supposed to be discussed at our February meeting, however in my nervousness as the new (OPHA) chair I must have gone right past it without prompting the report to be projected,” Hill wrote. “Rossana (OHPA office manager) advised that she had the R&M report ready to project (on screen) but was never prompted for it. Again, this is my mistake.”

Hill said she has requested an item-by-item update on the status of repairs outlined in the report.

A review of the meeting minutes from OHPA’s January 24 session found no mention of the R&M Needs Assessment Report or any discussion of its findings by either Savage or OHPA Commissioners. The Observer attended that meeting and no specific discussion regarding the R&M document or its findings took place.

The minutes reflect discussion on warehouse repairs and pending repair to the truck loading dock roof, which was rated as high severity and could cause “potential death” to workers. The report was never referenced in comments regarding that repair.

The same is true of a review of all OHPA meetings for 2024 which found no mention of the R&M assessment or details of its findings.

R&M said of the truck dock roof, “the roofing system over the truck dock is in a poor and unsafe condition due to extensive corrosion. Much of the roof sheathing has been removed from a recent storm. What is left is in such poor condition that it is unsafe to leave in place. Repairs and replacements for this canopy are scheduled to begin in January 2024.”

But the roof was not repaired until April, according to OHPA documents.

R&M’s electrical inspectors found four instances of “high severity” faulty electrical systems that “exposes personnel to electrical shock or arc flash hazards. The company warned “continued operation in the present condition poses a severe hazard, including potential death.”

R&M’s narrative of the port’s electrical system stated, “Much of the electrical system has significant corrosion and should be replaced. Significant corrosion exposes personnel to electrical conductors and may also be a source of sharp edges that can cut into electrical insulation. Means to reduce corrosion include PVC material and corrosion-resistant PVC pipe wrap for metallic conduit.

“Several underground electrical boxes exist on the property which flood regularly. Underground boxes are common even in wet areas, but any splices should be made with devices that are water resistant and listed for wet areas.

“Several lights are not functioning in the yard. Poor lighting can be a factor in industrial accidents and should be corrected.”

The report cited the following “high severity” hazards:

Container Crane Model P120B-Super: Conductor insulation had an improper conductor termination.

North Rail Gate: The gate was cited with four instances of “high severity.” There were exposed electrical conductors; there was corrosion of a junction box; and broken or damaged conduit.

In its summary, the R&M report stated: “The railway signal system is known to be non-functional. This should be repaired to improve the safety of yard personnel.” The crossing’s signal alarms did not work.

The report cited 12 instances of “low severity” problems that if left unattended would become hazardous to workers.

Officials at Savage/Nassau Marine Terminals said all five “severity” repairs had been completed.

“As indicated in our update to OHPA, all items identified in the reports as “high severity” have already been addressed. We’re confident there is currently no safety risk to our Team Members or others at the port resulting from these items, or from the “low severity” items identified in the reports that require attention,” said Jeff Hymas, director of Public Affairs in an email. “Many of the items identified in the needs assessment reports are very old and pre-date the current Operating Agreement. We believe an effort by OHPA to secure grant funding to make the remaining improvements is necessary. We have communicated this to OHPA, along with our willingness to work with OHPA to seek the required funding to correct the remaining issues identified in these reports. As the operator, the safety of our Team Members and others at the port is of paramount importance.”

Commissioner Nelson, who was tasked by OHPA to report on facility maintenance needs when he took office in 2022, was at the port Tuesday morning surveying repair work recommended in the R&M assessment.

“The report found more extensive repair work than we had originally thought from any previous assessment and things had gotten worse at that time,” Nelson said. “But as you know, I’ve been the squeaky wheel citing over and over again at past OHPA meetings the need for repairs to the warehouse, loading dock, cranes and electrical systems.”

Nelson said he had begun reporting on deficiencies beginning in 2023 and his repeated warnings is what led to the R&M assessment being conducted.

“They’re (Savage) making headway. We’re just now seeing some of these repairs being made. It’s happening, but it’s not going to be done overnight,” he said.

Nelson said he was concerned that Savage never brought the details of the assessment to the attention of OHPA until Hill distributed the report to commissioners.

“I think OHPA’s view of this by me bringing it up consistently has now brought this to the forefront,” Nelson said. “These issues were being raised and I never backed off. If we did another assessment we’d probably find more problems.”

When asked about the R&M Needs Assessment Report by Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Chip Ross, Chair Hill stated in an email, “The operator (Savage) has suggested that OHPA should have made more investments in the facility although they have not identified the corresponding revenue source that OHPA should have used for such investments.”

Hill said in her email to The Observer that a timeline for completion for fixing the reported problems is unclear.

“Under the operating agreement, Port Revenue does not flow through OHPA, so OHPA does not have a corresponding recurring revenue source to fund recurring expenses. Such expenses are the responsibility of the Operator until such time that the maintenance account has a sufficient balance. The maintenance account has been drawn down by the Operator, so the balance has not reached a point that OHPA has control over proceeds,” Hill wrote.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Noble Member
18 days ago

I wonder how all this will play out? Will it be fixed? Will it get worse? Is there enough money to make all the repairs? What does all this say about the facility overall? The management? The Commissioners? Grab your popcorn……

Paula M
Noble Member
Paula M(@paula-m)
18 days ago

Lot’s of “unclears” and “not sures” and “no answers ” in this mess..where does the buck stop???

Trusted Member
6 days ago
Reply to  Paula M

Vote to clean out the Port’s house in the critical upcoming election.

Bob Reisner
Active Member
Bob Reisner(@bob-reisner)
18 days ago

More expense that will have to be guaranteed by the city or directly paid for by the city.

The port contributes nothing of value to the city and its residents (taxpayers).

Close the port and sell the land to a developer that will build a mixed use commercial and residential space that adds real value and eliminates an eyesore.

When will the stupidity stop?

Last edited 18 days ago by Bob Reisner
Active Member
[email protected](@memaguireaol-com)
16 days ago

Everyone in Nassau County should run for the Port Commission. Legal age seems to be the only requirement.

Trusted Member
6 days ago

Absolute malfeasance. What’s worse is hiding the port’s deterioration from the public – especially those folks who live in the surrounding area. Because of the consequences of bad port safety and waste handling procedures range the spectrum from small to enormous, it would appear that trust in Port Management and oversight is a critical area that needs immediate focus in the upcoming election.  

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x