Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) and Ocean Highway and Port Authority Commissioners (OHPA) met for an hour on April 16, 2013 in Fernandina Beach City Commission Chambers. This was the third joint workshop between the two elected bodies. The Boards began quarterly meetings a year ago in an effort to strengthen working relationships.
The thrust of the most recent meeting was port security and public safety. OHPA attorney Clyde Davis spoke for the Port and used aerial photographs and maps to show areas of concern. Davis indicated that port security is compromised when motorists wander into warehouse areas, which are not currently off limits to public traffic. He said that there are problems with signage at the port perimeter as well as a need to upgrade lighting and camera systems to increase security and public safety. He reported that the OHPA understands that lighting can be intrusive to neighboring residential areas. He suggested that the OHPA wants to work with the city to manage lighting, traffic and parking issues to minimize impacts on the surrounding neighborhood while increasing port security and improving public safety in the surrounding area.
Davis emphasized that the Port is not looking to expand operations to the south or east. Rumors about expansion probably originated with plans to expand the docking area, inside the port, to the north.
Davis outlined the complications of traffic in the area surrounding the port, where interests of commercial, residential, port and tourist activities often intersect and compete. He suggested that it would make sense to close the portion of Calhoun Street west of 2nd Street that dead ends into warehouses.
Other areas–namely 2nd Street between Calhoun and Dade Streets and Dade Street between Front and 3rd Streets—represent more complicated problems. Davis called for discussion among the parties on the best way to handle those problems. He said that the OHPA is not asking that those streets be closed, because the resulting change in traffic patterns for waterfront commercial vehicles would greatly impact the neighboring residential areas. He wondered, however, if those streets could be restricted to commercial truck traffic with need to travel to waterfront industrial or commercial concerns.
Another area of concern for the OHPA is parking for port employees and visitors. The port’s current parking lot, located on Front Street, is needed for cargo storage.
Davis on behalf of the OHPA recommended that parking be relocated to vacant lots that the port owns on the east side of 3rd Street at the intersection with Dade Street. Davis said that by doing this, which would involve a zoning change, the Port would be able to work with St. Michael’s Church to alleviate parking requirements associated with their current expansion plans. Arrangements could be made for parishioners to park in the lot and be shuttled to church services.
City Commissioner Pat Gass said that closing Calhoun Street from 2nd Street west was “a no brainer.” Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett said that 2nd Street between the warehouses could be designated for commercial traffic only. Port Commissioner Richard Bruce reported that he had spoken with the three commercial enterprises on Front Street about restricting access on the streets in question to commercial trucking. He reported no problems from their perspective.
OHPA Chairman Brian Reaves said that both the OHPA and the FBCC “need to keep looking outside the box people want to put us in” with respect to solving problems. He emphasized, “None of us want to hurt our community.” OHPA Commissioner Carrol Franklin said that street restrictions would make port operations more secure.
City Commissioner Gass expressed fears that while restricting 2nd Street traffic north of Calhoun might be doable, restricting traffic on Dade Street from Front to 3rd Streets might create a traffic problem. She allowed as that path served as her shortcut home from work.
Commissioner Ed Boner asked if the Port would consider opening the Broome Street rail crossing as a means to alleviate the local traffic that would normally travel Dade Street. OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood suggested a traffic study. OHPA Chairman Reaves asked, “What about opening Broome or Alachua? That could help local business and tourism traffic.” A brief discussion ensued regarding opening the Broome, Alachua or both crossings for this purpose. OHPA Commissioner Bruce said that the goal should be to keep 18-wheelers and other large vehicles off residential streets. He expressed concerns that when truckers follow GPS routing instructions they often blunder into residential areas.
City Commissioner Boner said, “I would love to see a plan that included closing the dead-end portion of Calhoun and restricting traffic to commercial in the other areas, along with an idea of what the OHPA would do for the city in return.” OHPA Commissioner Bruce stressed, “We are not talking about closing 2nd Street.”
City Commissioner Gass asked for an impact study on the surrounding neighborhood for any proposed changes. OHPA Chairman Reaves indicated that while that might be desirable, studies of that sort cost money which is in short supply.
A final topic of discussion between the two bodies was the OHPA’s embarking on a long range planning effort, aided by Cardno TEC, Inc., a consulting firm that “provides expertise and support in environmental planning, environmental compliance, ports and airport planning, geographic information services and data management, asset management services (including facility condition assessments), and services in support of traditional and renewable energy development, transmission, and conservation.” [Taken from their website: www.cardnotec.com]
Reaves introduced Cardno TEC representative Steven Berry, and said that the OHPA will be searching for information on city activities that could be included in the long range plan. The OHPA is using a $100K state planning grant in this effort and will work with the county and all its municipalities for input. He singled out the need to work with the city of Fernandina Beach on the port element in the city’s Land Development Code. He also cited work with the Nassau County Economic Development Board on a flyover at the Crawford industrial diamond on Route 301. Reaves said that the OHPA hopes to look at airports, seaports and roads around the county. But attorney Clyde Davis quickly added, “The OHPA is not trying to take over the city’s airport.” The objective instead is to try to determine what the OHPA can do for the city.
OHPA Commissioner Danny Fullwood, who recently attended a city CRA Advisory Board meeting, suggested that the OHPA might be able to help with opening the Alachua Street railroad crossing.
City Manager Joe Gerrity indicated that the OHPA would need to make a formal request to the city to close the portion of Calhoun west of 2nd Street.
The meeting adjourned just in time for the FBCC to move into its Regular Meeting at 6:00 p.m.
April 18, 2013 12:05 p.m.