Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 8, 2015 3:38 p.m.

 

DSCN3834There was standing room only in Fernandina Beach City Commission Chamber the evening of January 7, 2015, as city and county residents hoped to learn new information and plans of the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) and the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) to deal with traffic and safety concerns that have surfaced in connection with city review of a draft master plan for the Port of Fernandina. After almost three hours of discussion, which included public input, there was no resolution. However, the parties seemed to be amenable to considering a separate agreement to more clearly delineate development restrictions on the port and a more specific action plan to reflect short-term, specific plans for the port. The parties agreed to resume discussions at a future meeting, perhaps in 60 days. 

The joint special meeting of the two boards came six months following the initial submission of the draft master plan to city staff in June 2014. Because the plan would involve changes to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, it was forwarded initially to the city’s Planning Advisory Board (PAB) for review and comment in August. Due to significant public concerns over the plan elements, PAB Chair Len Kreger formed a subcommittee devoted to study of the plan. The subcommittee met three times during August 2014 and took many public comments orally and in writing.

During its regular meeting of September 10, 2014 the OHPA took public comments and questions regarding the draft master plan. They held a workshop on October 2 to review and possibly revise the plan. That amended plan was presented at the PAB’s November 12 meeting. The PAB, which serves as the city’s local planning agency, recommended denial because the plan was not sufficiently in compliance with applicable Florida Statutes.

Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (l-r):  Pat Gass, Robin Lentz, Mayor Ed Boner, Tim Poynter, Vice Mayor Johnny Miller
Fernandina Beach City Commissioners arrived first and shared some light moments before the meeting began (l-r): Pat Gass, Robin Lentz, Mayor Ed Boner, Tim Poynter, Vice Mayor Johnny Miller

While all five city commissioners attended the January 7 special joint meeting, only three of the five port commissioners—Chair Richard Bruce, Danny Fullwood and Adam Salzburg—attended. Fernandina Beach Mayor Ed Boner chaired the meeting. During his opening remarks he called for courtesy and civility from audience members, and for the most part the audience complied.

OHPA Commissioners (l-r):  Adam Sulzburg, Board Attorney Clyde Davis, Board Chair Richard Bruce, Danny Fullwood
OHPA Commissioners (l-r): Adam Salzburg, Board Attorney Clyde Davis, Board Chair Richard Bruce, Danny Fullwood

For many in the audience, including Planning Advisory Board members and Historic District residents, the meeting content was a repetition of both information and comments aired during meetings held during the previous summer and fall. In his opening remarks, OHPA Chair Richard Bruce spoke to what he termed “a blizzard of social media comments” on the port master plan, many of which were not true and could have been easily verified, but were not. He said, “Nothing that we have done or will do will adversely affect the community.” He said that world trade, not tourism, is the biggest business in Florida, and that it would be “a shame not to take advantage of that” at the Port of Fernandina. He expressed his hope that 2015 would be a year of civil discourse.

Much discussion surrounded the term “master plan” for the massive document that had been submitted to the city last year for review. As they have maintained consistently, OHPA commissioners have stated that the document is more akin to a report, which lays out all possibilities, whether feasible or not, for port operations over the next 10 years. OHPA Chair Bruce asked, “What is in a title? It is a 10-year horizon of possibilities … nothing in it has OHPA agreed to do.”

DSCN3837Mayor Boner expressed residents’ concerns over what appeared to be increased truck traffic levels in the plan. He said he was concerned over what impacts the Fernandina Beach community and asked, “Is it all good?” Vice Mayor Johnny Miller asked, “Did you involve the residents in the formulation of this document?”

Brian Wheeler, the Cardno consultant who compiled the plan on behalf of the port, replied, “We did not go door to door. We looked toward city staff and market trends.”

Kinder Morgan port director Val Schwec (standing) addresses OHPA Chair Bruce
Kinder Morgan port director Val Schwec (standing) addresses OHPA Chair Bruce as Commissioners Salzburg and Fullwood look on.

OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood expressed his concern over the large volume of truck traffic projected in the document, indicating that such levels could never be met given the physical constraints of the Port. Wheeler replied that he used a mandated state methodology in the calculations, and that the methodology does not work well for a small port. In response to questions from the OHPA commissioners, Val Schwec, who heads port operations for Kinder Morgan, said that the maximum number of trucks that the port can handle on a daily basis is probably 168, last recorded in 1992. To exceed that number, the port would require multiple loading points and to expand outside the existing footprint. Schwec added that the problem of trucks queuing on Dade Street to gain access to the port is “manageable if everyone stays on top of the situation and does what’s right.”

DSCN3825Commissioner Tim Poynter told OHPA commissioners that their repeated use of the phrase “as our footprint is now” with respect to the port’s boundaries sends warning signals to the community. OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood said that there is no intent to increase the port’s footprint. Consultant Brian Wheeler said that the port is limited to rearranging operations and functions within existing space and extending over the river.

Discussion continued over the port’s parking needs. The OHPA asserted that their needs for off-port parking were caused by 2003 Homeland Security regulations. Poynter said, “But you pulled your request for rezoning of lots for offsite parking. Are you in violation of those 2003 regulations now?” OHPA Attorney Clyde Davis said that the requests for zoning change had been pulled to allow the OHPA to discuss the problem with the FBCC at the current workshop.

City Commissioner Robin Lentz asked about a port property on the river that has been used for parking. She said that it is fenced and gated and although she has gone past it at different times during the day, there are few cars there and the gate remains open. A discussion ensued with Val Schwec on security requirements for that area which has been used for cargo in the past. In such circumstances the lot would need to be secured. A seemingly exasperated city commissioner Pat Gass turned to Lentz and asked, “Are you really going to call these elected officials liars?”

City Commissioner Lentz makes her point to port commissioners as Commissioner Pat Gass and Mayor Ed Boner look on.
City Commissioner Lentz makes her point to port commissioners as Commissioner Pat Gass and Mayor Ed Boner look on.

Commissioner Poynter, after listening to OHPA attorney Clyde Davis recite the various laws empowering the OHPA ranging from local to the U.S. Constitution, said, “From what I’ve heard, you are here as a courtesy because you can do what you want. You can usurp both city and county laws.”

Davis replied, “The fact that the OHPA has such powers doesn’t mean that it is prudent to do so.”

Poynter went on to the existing Development of Regional Impact (DRI) executed between the city of Fernandina Beach and the OHPA, which limits port expansion and calls for a $50,000 payment to the city in lieu of taxes and fees. He said that the DRI will sunset in 4 years. He asked if, to reassure the community, the OHPA would be willing to enter into a new DRI that would include some of the restrictions that the OHPA seems to have agreed to orally. Port Commissioner Fullwood replied that he would absolutely work toward a new DRI, but consultant Brian Wheeler interjected that by state law DRIs have been removed as requirements. He added that the parties could, however, enter into an agreement with restrictions.

Chip Ross:  "We don't want to be poisoned, blown up or run over."
Chip Ross: “We don’t want to be poisoned, blown up or run over.”

Mayor Boner opened the floor to public input and first to speak was Chip Ross, a Historic District resident and port neighbor. Ross said with regard to the port’s plan, “We have three concerns: we don’t want to be poisoned, blown up or run over.” Ross raised the matter of handling hazardous materials at the port. Port Commissioner Danny Fullwood asked Rob Bishop of North Florida Shipping to speak to the shipping of gas canisters. Bishop said that he ships 6-8 canisters per month from the port. He said that the nature of LPG is such that it is less dangerous than “visiting a gas station.”

Christine Courso
Christine Courso

Christine Courso spoke next and said that her concern was not with the OHPA but with Kinder Morgan, the OHPA tenant hired to run port operations. She claimed that Kinder Morgan was a private company that would run the port for the first 8 years of the 10-year proposed plan. Just this week Kinder Morgan laid off 16 port employees. OHPA Chair Bruce said, “We don’t want to see people laid off. We wish we had known in advance, but Kinder Morgan held on to those employees for 2 years in hopes that work volume would increase.” He added that there are 4-5 pieces of new business pending that might result in recalls.

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon

Medardo Monzon also expressed concerns about Kinder Morgan. Mayor Boner would not allow him to continue with charges against the firm, but Monzon distributed to the audience a URL address from the Sightline Institute for information about the firm’s problems. He also informed the audience that recent OHPA elections had been mishandled, because by the OHPA Charter elections are supposed to be non-partisan. He suggested that the charter needed changing at the state level and asked for a remedy for the improper elections.

Mayor Boner called for a short break before the meeting resumed with three more speakers.

Historic District resident Ann Thomas said that the Port of Fernandina accounts for only 0.5% of Florida’s port business. She added that the blast zone for LNG is 3 miles.

Phil Scanlan calls for a written plan.
Phil Scanlan calls for a written plan.

County resident Phil Scanlan said that the problem is not with the people but with the plan. He asked the commissioners to read the document to see if it is something “you can live with.” He said, “If you need a plan, get a plan,” adding that it is not rational to label a document a plan but then tell people that although the plan calls for 750 trucks a day to transit the port, really there will be no more than 168. Commissioner Robin Lentz thanked Scanlan and expressed her concern that there be a written understanding of what both elected bodies have agreed to honor because in ten years (the time span of the draft master plan) people who were part of the discussion will no longer be in positions of authority. They will rely on a written record. If the only thing to consult is the port master plan, the assumption will be that everything in that document was adopted, regardless of the intent of the parties.

Commissioners engaged in some discussion over the draft master plan, what it was and what it wasn’t. OHPA Chair Bruce said that an approval of the document signifies “an adoption of the work done.” Any final decision to implement any of the points included in the document would need to be done specifically by the OHPA. Mayor Boner said, “This is a ‘what if’ plan, a feasibility study.” Attorney Davis added that the flaw in the plan was the modeling done according to state methodology. Poynter asked Davis, “Could you do a real plan now?” Davis replied that such could be done at a local level. OHPA Chair Bruce said that he would suggest to the OHPA Board at their next meeting that they develop a more specific, short-term plan.

Chuck Hall asks for 3 inclusions in the plan.
Chuck Hall asks for 3 inclusions in the plan.

Chuck Hall, the final public speaker, asked if the OHPA would incorporate the following three points into its plan:

  • Limit truck traffic to no more than 168 per day
  • Refuse dangerous and polluting cargo
  • Design a port entry point to eliminate truck queuing on Dade Street

OHPA Chair Bruce said that the OHPA has no authority to limit legal cargo. OHPA Commissioner Fullwood said that he wants to explore the 168-truck limit.

Commissioner Robin Lentz said that as the wife of a former submariner, she was well aware of the risks of hazardous material posed by Kings Bay Naval Base, a short distance from Fernandina Beach. She also noted that hazardous materials are trucked into both Fernandina Beach mills. Port Commissioner Adam Salzburg, who had been silent throughout the meeting, said that as a firefighter he was more concerned about gasoline than LNG. He suggested that community fears might be addressed through a more aggressive public education program.

Senior city planner Kelly Gibson informed the boards about the formation of a PAB subcommittee to address a request for a text amendment change on hazardous material transportation and handling within the city. The first meeting had been scheduled for January 13, but will be rescheduled due to a conflict with a meeting being held by State Representative Janet Adkins.

Readers interested in more background on the port master plan may search the Fernandina Observer for reports on previous meetings or consult the city’s website for agendas, minutes and documents www.fbfl.us.
Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Betsie Huben
Betsie Huben (@guest_26346)
7 years ago

Why anyone would approve or endorse a 10-year plan that is based on models that do not work well for small ports or likewise advances truck traffic counts etc. that are faulty and not realistic is beyond me. Why is the OHP still advancing this document? And why on earth would the citizens of Fernandina Beach or their elected representatives sign off on something that is clearly, by Kinder Morgan’s own statements flawed on so many levels? Perhaps it is time for OHP to request a refund from Cardno and start over on a document that is accurate on specifics of the “plan”, clearly distinguishes planning from “possibilities” and takes the time to gather data that accurately reflects the views of cross section of our local residents.

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_26354)
7 years ago
Reply to  Betsie Huben

Suanne Thanks, as always a concise and understandable reporting job. OHPA chair Bruce said ” That there was a Blizzard Of Social Media Comments” that were not true concerning the Port. What was not true? The comments concerning the business practices of Kinder Morgan, They are all documented Mr. Bruce, go the Sightline site that Mr. Monzon handed out at the Meeting. Information on what is contained in the Port’s Master Plan. Or the charter of The Ocean Highway and Port Authority. These are all documented. Facts are Facts. Was there and is there confusion as to what you and the rest of the OHPA Commissioners have in store for this community? you bet there is. Mr. Bruce, Mr. Davis and rest of the OHPA commissioners. This Town, This Island does not care that World Trade is the biggest business in Florida. Tourism is the biggest business by far on Amelia Island and the majority of our citizens want to keep it that way. As for Ms. Lentz Challenging the veracity of these Elected Officials. They have consistently been caught telling half truths or fabrications on issues concerning the spot zoning issue, The coal, dirty air permit and the Port Master Plan. I agree with Betsie, the Port Commissioners should demand a refund from Cardno. What was the cost $10,000? You can do better boys.

Jill McCarthy
Jill McCarthy (@guest_26352)
7 years ago

Don’t forget Kings Bay is right across the river, if they had an explosion we would all be gone so you might want to move!!!!

Faith Ross
Faith Ross (@guest_26392)
7 years ago
Reply to  Jill McCarthy

At least I would die in defense of my country if the sub base exploded. Most people won’t give up their lives to line the pockets of Kinder Morgan or the Port. Sometimes we need to step back and say, “Who benefits?” from loss of life? And to make matters worse, all of the Port’s acreage is tax exempt. We don’t even get taxes from this deal. In the Port’s case the axiom of the two things you can count on in life are “death and taxes” isn’t true. We get the death, but we don’t get the tax revenue. We get to pay the taxes to support them to kill us. Does anyone think this is a good deal?

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_26411)
7 years ago
Reply to  Faith Ross

Faith, Until 2013, Kinder Morgan payed no taxes, in 2013 they changed the corp. structure to acquire another business and had to start paying some taxes. During the time between 1997 and 2013 Mr. Kinder went from merely a multi-millionaire to a multi-billionaire. He made it the old fashioned way through hard work and not paying taxes.

chuck hall
chuck hall (@guest_26355)
7 years ago

Terrible meeting, I’m sad to say.
Although the Port attorney was absolutely correct in much of his fact-quoting at the beginning of his presentation, I was a bit uncomfortable with his veiled threat to move the Port’s desires forward without the approval of the City.

He additionally remarked that they could even use their Eminent Domain powers (perhaps to expand the Port facilities by seizing private properties), and that they did not need City approval to use any of their property any way they wanted to.

At that point, the meeting went south, and I could see the City Commissioners ‘get’ the threat. While the port’s attorney might think of this as a carrot and stick action, one of the Commissioners quickly responded with…”So, you are here really, as a courtesy, and you are telling us what you intend to do regardless of our decisions?”

This is a problem. Walking into a meeting, and making a do-it-our-way-or-else speech is not what we in the South refer to as a gentleman’s discussion.
Now, all this might well be factual in his opinion, but it was perceived as a threat.

No one likes to be threatened about anything. I hope that more reasonable actions are present at the next meeting.

(btw, that Master Plan cost $100,000 of tax-payer money. How about that?)

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_26375)
7 years ago

Chuck Hall is right on point.

And Robin Lentz’s comment concerning the future as regards the Port Master Plan is resoundingly correct “….They will rely on a written record. If the only thing to consult is the port master plan, the assumption will be that everything in that document was adopted, regardless of the intent of the parties…..”

Get it all down in writing – after proper and informed consultation between the parties – and take the time to do it right.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_26377)
7 years ago

There must be a reason for the OHPA madness but dang if I can understand it. Having been a management consultant for 20+ years I was involved in developing strategic plans for hundreds of companies. Those plans generally had three levels of scenarios: pessimistic, most likely and optimistic in order to determine the financial sensitivity under various environments. While some of the “optimistic” elements could be highly optimistic, none were ever at level that some of the OHPA plan are. OHPA members themselves say that certain assumptions will never occur. If that is the case, then develop a range of assumptions that are within reason. But this continued refusal to develop more reasonable tactics and stick with unreasonable assumptions is beyond my comprehension. The current plan isn’t a case of throwing the noodles against the wall of reason and seeing what sticks, but more of including everything in the pot. As Comm. Lentz noted, the written record is what generally serves as “intent” when people look back.
One other question I have is the oversight of OHPA over Kinder Morgan, or lack thereof. On several occassions, OHPA officials have pleaded ignorance of KM’s actions. Does KM have carte blanche over their activities at the port? Can they just bring in any new function they want without any approval by, much less communication to, OHPA?
It will be interesting to see the position, if any, that Aaron Bean and Janet Adkins take in their town hall meeting. I think we all want to see the port be successful, just as we do RockTenn and Rayonier, but to do so in a manner that is compatible with the safety and health of the overall community.

Chris Occhuizzo
Chris Occhuizzo (@guest_26380)
7 years ago

I agree with all the above – the gun-to-the head approach of Mr. Davis, the ambiguity of what the Port Master plan can vs will do and the general evasive nature of the Port to give specific plans. I fear that Kinder Morgan is just drooling to get this open-ended plan approved and then use their deep pockets to fund a waterway LNG distribution center – after all, that is their main business. As a side note, I feel Pat Gass has hit a new low with her outburst directed at Robin Lentz – totally uncalled for, unprofessional and inappropriate for a Commissioner – something I would expect from a shrewish participant in a bar brawl.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_26382)
7 years ago

Time for both Arron Bean and Janet Adkins to get involved – if for no other reason than to look at their perspective on what happens now if Florida DRI requirements have apparently been thrown out the window. Quoting from the Observer article in part,
“…Poynter went on to the existing Development of Regional Impact (DRI) executed between the city of Fernandina Beach and the OHPA, which limits port expansion and calls for a $50,000 payment to the city in lieu of taxes and fees. He said that the DRI will sunset in 4 years. He asked if, to reassure the community, the OHPA would be willing to enter into a new DRI that would include some of the restrictions that the OHPA seems to have agreed to orally. Port Commissioner Fullwood replied that he would absolutely work toward a new DRI, but consultant Brian Wheeler interjected that by state law DRIs have been removed as requirements. He added that the parties could, however, enter into an agreement with restrictions….”

margaret howard
margaret howard (@guest_26389)
7 years ago

Recap and comments on point. As said before, this is a city with a port, not the opposite. This commission is tackling, with island residents’ inputs, tough issues and muck through them. Thank you for not being satisfied with the easy answers. Our state reps, yes, it is time for their help. EPA? More questions lead to better choices. Scenarios are a great idea.

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_26390)
7 years ago

Will i’m delighted that our elected OHPA commissioners have started the educational process of enlightening our citizens on what we can expect from them. I found it especially interesting that Mr. Davis took this opportunity to set the record straight on what powers the OHPA has. Even eminent domain. Nothing like coming into a public relations meeting with a base ball bat in hand. Class act Mr. Davis. I agree with the folks that say we need to get Aaron Bean and Janet Adkins involved. The only way that the Port of Fernandina can expand is with grant monies from the Federal Govt. and the State. Kinder Morgan will not foot the expansion without grant monies. We know that our OHPA commissioners can’t generate enough business to cover expansion. Heck they can’t even keep up with the loans they’ve taken out. Mr. Bruce has less than two years in office.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_26412)
7 years ago

Clyde Davis is doing his job. And, at least, on the other end, we can trust his good faith and candor.

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon (@guest_26414)
7 years ago

Commissioners of the Port Authority don’t understand that leadership is the art of influencing others, their focus is to wield power. They are elected officials who forgot president Lincoln’s words: …. that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

I encourage all citizens to advocate foe changing OHPA’s charter so that City Commissioners have more oversight. The charter of Jaxport was changed and today local government appoints 4 of the 7 Jaxport Board Directors and is involved in approving Jaxport’s budget.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_26416)
7 years ago

Agree with Medardo.

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon (@guest_26435)
7 years ago

Robert, please write to: mmonzon@comcast.net, I would like to talk to you.

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_26444)
7 years ago

To all, I just posted my concerns about the OHPA Commissioners, Their Charter( no oversight) and the 10 year Master Plan on both Janet and Aaron’s web site. I would suggest all do the same. This is mere conjecture but if you were an Employer That owed, oh say $20,000,000 To an Employee in loans. Would that have an adverse affect on the Employee/Employer relationship? Just asking. OVERSIGHT IS NEEDED

Dvid Olson
Dvid Olson (@guest_26449)
7 years ago

As a city resident I heard attorney Davis recite the State of Florida law, and skillfully summarized by Commissioner Poynter, that empowers the OHPA to do whatever it wants and makes it largely exempt from city and county regulations. I do not blame the OHPA for doing its job as required by the one size fits all law. Our port is not a Jacksonville or Miami mega port. I was appalled that such a law applies to our small port and of its potential effects on our wonderful city. I blame the Florida legislature that approved the law for the situation. Where was our legislator when this law was proposed? Apparently not thinking of the impact on our city.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_26464)
7 years ago

For a Port Master Plan that truly involves the community in its development, take a look at the most recent update for the Port of Fort Pierce plan.
http://www.stlucieco.gov/public_works/port.htm

http://www.stlucieco.gov/pdfs/FtPierce_Sept2013_final.pdf

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_26488)
7 years ago

Dave – Great links. Now a real conversation may begin. Hope Arron and Janet take the time before their meeting with constituents to read the Ft. Pierce approach to plan development and the Ft. Pierce plan itself. I think something must be done in the interim, however, to deal with the existing Port authority charter and lack of city input.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_26494)
7 years ago

Dave, ” You The Man” I do believe this is the” Golden Egg” we have been looking for. I’ve read the documents and it truly is what we should expect in compiling inputs for a Master Plan or Working document for a Port that is such an integral part of are community. Have you sent the web sites to Janet and Aaron’s offices?

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