Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
On March 22, 2013, Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) gave their full attention to Erik Olsen of Olsen Associates and Arthur I. “Buddy” Jacobs, the city’s lobbyist, during an hour-long status report on the future of beach renourishment projects for Fernandina Beach. In the absence of Mayor Sarah Pelican, Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett chaired the workshop, which was attended by many city staffers, media and a few of interested citizens, including county manager Ted Selby. City Manager Joe Gerrity informed the FBCC that the purpose of the workshop was to set expectations for the next round of beach renourishment activity.
History of local beach renourishment
Erik Olsen, who has worked for the city on matters of beach erosion and renourishment for many years, delivered a detailed slide presentation on the Nassau County Shore Protection Project. He called the City of Fernandina Beach “The Poster-Child of Perseverance,” recapping efforts to stabilize the beaches beginning with a Beach Erosion Board Study in 1946 and additional studies in 1960, 1973, 1977, 1984, and 1999. Other than some revetments provided by the Federal government following Hurricane Dora in 1964, construction work to stabilize the beaches did not begin in earnest until 2008, 62 years after the initial study. During the 2008 renourishment project, 1.932 million cubic yards of sand were placed along 3.8 miles of city shorefront, in the area bounded roughly by Fort Clinch and Sadler Road.
According to Olsen, Fernandina Beach is only one of a handful of Atlantic Coast cities for which the Federal government has accepted responsibility for beach erosion. This is due to the jetties, which the government constructed in the mid to late 1800’s, to guarantee the depth of the navigable channel into the port. The length of the jetties, however, stopped the natural flow of sand from north to south. Because of this, the city qualifies for Section 1-11 Mitigation, which provides that:
- The Federal government pays 100% of the first 50% of beach project cost as payment for damage caused by the jetties;
- The Federal government then pays 58% of the second 50% of the project cost.
The non-Federal share of beach projects is 20.9%. That amount has been traditionally partially paid by the state of Florida, Nassau County, and Fernandina Beach. Federal funding is limited to 50 years maximum; both state and Federal funding are dependent upon appropriations.
The 2008 beach construction project rebuilt the beach to the ideal, or “design beach,” and added sand over and above the amount needed to reconstruct the beach. After the major beach reconstruction in 2008, it was predicted that the beach would need to be renourished every 5 years, meaning that additional sand should be added in 2013. However, at this time it appears that such renourishment will not be needed until 2014, and due to several factors, probably will not occur until 2015.
Process changes going forward
On the 2008 project, the city served as the local project sponsor and as such had responsibility for permitting, designing, bidding, managing and post construction monitoring. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) has taken over those functions for the first renourishment project, which will begin in 2014 or 2015. While Federal funding remains at 79.1%, and the state has committed to 46.44% of the non-federal share, the city and county are left to fund the remaining 11.2%. If the county agrees to split that cost with the city, each local government could pay 5.6% of that amount.
Sandfly in the ointment
In 2011, the South Atlantic District of the Corps of Engineers conducted an audit of the Jacksonville COE operation. They determined that the Jacksonville operation had improperly rebated to the City of Fernandina Beach $619K at the conclusion of the 2008 beach construction project. The city, as the local project sponsor, had dutifully returned part of this money to both the state and the county, in proportion to the money they had contributed to the project. The Jacksonville COE office stood by its actions, but the South Atlantic District was not persuaded. After months of negotiations and the good offices of Senator Bill Nelson and Representative Ander Crenshaw, the COE reduced the amount of money it wants returned to $324K. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the COE will not initiate design and permitting for the first renourishment project until they receive both repayment and the first renourishment project contribution of $154K.
Additional money owed to the COE for the first renourishment project (2014/15) include an additional $89K for engineering and permitting (2014) and $2.5M, the local share of an estimated $12M construction project that will begin in 2014 or 2015. The total local cost share on this project just to the Corps of Engineers is estimated at $3,074,823. Additional costs to the city include Olsen’s consultant fees ($84K), year 5 project monitoring ($125K), and beach disposal ($20K), bringing the local share of the grand total for the first beach renourishment project to $3,303,823.
But wait … there is good news
The local cost share includes the 46.44% contributed by Florida, which amounts to more than $1.5M, leaving “only” $1.8M to the city and the county. If the local governments would agree to split the cost – not at all a given – the city’s share could drop to $885K. Another bit of good news is that the local cost for the first renourishment is about $698K less than it was in 2008.
Another bit of good news is that the City of Fernandina Beach through its representative, Arthur I. “Buddy” Jacobs, has been able to stop planned action by the Corps of Engineers to dispose of dredge from the St. Marys Inlet Channel in the ocean, as opposed to placing the material on the Amelia Island shoreline, as required by a memorandum of understanding dating back to 1986. The COE had claimed that their actions arose from an emergency situation “impacting safe passage of U.S. Navy assets,” but did not provide justification. Jacobs maintained that the COE was taking action for financial reasons that are detrimental to the City of Fernandina Beach. Being able to use this dredge on city beaches could lower the local cost share of the renourishment project.
Olsen and Jacobs reassured the FBCC that the Federal and state share of the money is currently safe. State money has been escrowed, but a contract is needed to commit the money to this project. City Manager Gerrity said that he wants the project put off until 2015. Olsen opined that since pragmatically the work needs to be done in the summer, and that the COE has much work to do to prepare, it is unlikely that the project could be done until 2015.
Gerrity reminded the FBCC that the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners has not committed to share local expenses. County Manager Ted Selby, who was in the audience, nodded his head in agreement.
Olsen said that the city’s project is the highest ranked shore stabilization project to get Federal funding. Jacobs added that the key to state funding is Federal funding.
The meeting ended after about an hour with little reaction from the commissioners and no public input.
March 24, 2013 1:00 a.m.