City of Fernandina Beach – Legal briefs

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm

City Attorney Tammi Bach
City Attorney Tammi Bach

Reporter-News Analyst

On Wednesday, March 13, 2013,  I sat down with Fernandina Beach City Attorney Tammi Bach for an update on several topics that seemed to be the subject of current or potential litigation for the city.  Here is what I learned:

Impact fee lawsuit

This suit was filed against the city in 2011 and claims that the city wrongfully assessed impact fees for new sewer connections and upgrades to reflect increased need for sewer capacity.  This case is going to mediation Friday, March 15.  The city’s maximum insurance coverage for this suit is $100K.  Any financial judgment against the city would be paid from funds from the city’s Utilities Department.

Railroad tracks and crossings downtown

For the past 10 years the city has been dealing with CSX and/or their subsidiary First Coast Railroad to address railroad issues along Front Street.  Over the last five years the parties were working together to address a variety of issues relating to the city’s plans for Front Street, opening the Alachua crossing, safety, etc.  With the abandonment of the Forward Fernandina plan and the recent personal injuries sustained on the railroad tracks, focus has narrowed to addressing maintenance and safety concerns.  It is the railroad’s responsibility to keep the rail beds in good repair.  However, the railroad’s responsibility only extends out 2 feet on either side of the tracks.  The City Attorney has been in discussion with railroad representatives this week, following the recent accident involving a wheelchair bound visitor. (Click here for previous article on accident.)

Sidewalk to nowhere

Title to the land between the railroad tracks and platted private property north of Centre Street is not clear. The city this week is filing a quiet title action in court seeking a determination of ownership of what could be a public sidewalk running from Centre Street alongside the Duryee Building to the Salty Pelican restaurant.  This matter has been in the City Manager’s office since mid-January, as informal efforts to resolve the dispute have been explored.  It will probably take several months to receive a legal ruling from the judge in this matter.

Airport:  8 Flags Aviation (8FA)

On January 24, 2013, 8FA filed a FAR Part 13 Discrimination Complaint against the City of Fernandina Beach with the FAA claiming that the city has effectively denied its application to develop a competing fixed base operation (FBO) at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport.  The FAA is awaiting a response from the city (due by March 27, 2013).  The city maintains that all its efforts over the past 10 years have been toward expanding airport operations to the east, and that would be the preferred site for a second FBO.  8FA, however, prefers to locate in the north portion of the property adjacent to a publicly funded ramp that would be available for their use.  The city has offered to meet with 8FA to discuss incentives to locating in the east area, but to date no meeting has taken place.  No lawsuit has been filed at this time.  Should the FAA decide in favor of 8FA on their discrimination complaint, the city could be required to pay back federal grants received and used for airport improvements.  Also, it would make obtaining future grants problematic.

Airport:  access to part of the Amelia River Golf leasehold between the airport and the river

The city has asked the FAA for permission to build an access road between the Amelia River Golf Course access road and the land in the leasehold not currently used for golf.  That land lies between the airport runways and the Amelia River.  The city has only asked for access, not release of lands not currently released in that parcel.  This issue arose when local developer Bob Allison approached George Sheffield, the principal of the Amelia River Golf Course leasehold, to sublet part of his leasehold for a luxury Class A RV resort.  If the FAA responds favorably to this request, other actions, including rezoning, would need to follow before an RV Resort could be built on this parcel of property.

Airport:  clean up of a former dumpsite

Developer Ron Flick of Compass Group appeared before the City Commission several weeks ago claiming that the city was liable for cleaning up an abandoned dumpsite discovered on property purchased for construction of a new Florida Public Utility building.  Mr. Flick and FPU did not discover this hazard during the 105 days they had to perform due diligence before purchasing this property.  Flick claims that the city withheld this information, even though no one currently with the city had any knowledge that a dump had been on this site more than 40 years ago, perhaps going back to the 1940’s when the US Navy owned the property.  According to City Attorney Bach, “Ron Flick and FPU have given the City options for cleaning up the site, including the City doing the cleanup or Mr. Flick’s company doing the cleanup.  Mr. Flick has not given any of us an estimate of what he would charge for doing the cleanup, just general estimates for different options.”

The city has expressed a willingness to talk with Mr. Flick and FPU about providing city equipment and staff to clean the area.   As of today, there is no lawsuit filed.

March 14, 2013 4:59 p.m.

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Brian Echard
Brian Echard (@guest_4903)
10 years ago

Suanne, I enjoyed reading your recap of the legal battles the City is facing. Below is some additional information on 8 Flags Aviation’s proposal to develop a second FBO:

Your article states that the City has offered to meet with 8FA, but no meeting has taken place. In reality, 8FA and the City has met numerous times over the last 14 months to discuss 8FA’s proposal to develop a second FBO. Those meetings resulted in little to no progress so Ms. Bach’s implication that 8FA is unwilling to meet with the City is correct only in that we are not willing to meet again to accomplish nothing. The rationale for 8FA’s choice to not meet again is the real story.

In November of 2012, 8FA asked the City to meet so that they could discuss the City’s possible “incentives” that would make it feasible for 8FA to spend millions of dollars to develop the East side of the airport so that 8FA could put in an FBO there.

The City has replied that they are only willing to discuss possible “rent concessions” as an incentive. The absurdity of this statement is that even if the City provided free rent to 8FA for 20 years, it would not begin to come close to the anticipated infrasture costs necessary to develop the East side.

FAA Grant Assurance 22 mandates equal rates and fees for all airport service providers, and it is naive to suggest that any reduction (or even elimination) of 8FA’s rent could possibly result in economic equality for both FBO providers. The City’s proposal to force 8FA into an undeveloped site ensures economic disparity with the existing FBO and levies an insurmountable financial burden on 8FA, while grant-funded infrastructure on the North side is existing and available for lease.

The real issue, and the focus of the FAA Part 13 Complaint, is why the City won’t allow 8FA to develop an FBO on the North side of the aiport when it already has the necessary existing infrastructure in place (that was built with Federal and State grant money). The City is providing favorable treatment to McGill Aviation and prohibiting fair and equitable competition by 8FA.

The City continues to market the North side of the airport as available for lease, and presentations demonstrating that fact were given on February 18th, during the joint Airport Advisory Committee and City Commissioner meeting. That property is clearly available, just not to 8FA.

We look forward to seeing the City’s March 27 response to the FAA Complaint on their continued discrimination against 8 Flags Aviation.

Brian Echard, Managing Member
8 Flags Aviation, LLC