By Mike Lednovich
French mathematician Narges Obaid famously said: “Don’t trust everything you see. Even salt looks like sugar.”
At the Ocean Highway and Port Authority’s public master plan workshop Thursday to discuss elements of its proposed plan for the Port of Fernandina, the port was promising sugar. The plan promotes controlled port business growth with minimal impact on the quality of life for both downtown residents and Amelia Island at large. One of the port’s narratives is adding more cruise ships they claim will stimulate passengers’ spending downtown and elsewhere.
“We’re targeting small, high end, ports of call cruise ships,” said David Kaufman, Port of Fernandina executive director. “We’re targeting anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen (cruise) ships a year.”
The 170-passenger Ocean Explorer is scheduled for April and the 490-passenger Seven Seas Navigator is scheduled in May, according to Kaufman.
But the majority of those attending the workshop, however, said they were wary in regard to the port’s plans to have more cruise ships visit Fernandina Beach. Of the 25 people polled by the Observer as they left the workshop, only one person liked the proposed cruise ship plan.
“I’d say the cruise lines were the most discussed (topic) this evening,” said Justin Cole of RS&H, consultants on the master plan. “Most of the people wanted to know about the operations, how big the ships would be, how many passengers and the plan once they got into town, and where would they go. We had some good turnout, good comments. We’ve got some things to consider but also some positive support.”
Tim Poynter, a longtime downtown businessman with restaurants, a putt-putt complex and a duck pin bowling center, strongly opposes the idea of cruise ships at the Port of Fernandina.
“How do we support a cruise ship dropping off 200 people or 500 people? They’re talking about busing people to Kingsley Plantation or Jax Beach but what are they going to have 20 or 30 buses lined up using Front Street or Dade Street. Our infrastructure won’t support that,” he said. “Even the Tourist Development Council is against this. The TDC promotes bringing ‘heads in beds,’ cruise passengers are bringing their own beds. They’re not going to spend their dollars in the community, they’re going to overburden the community, then they’re going to get back on their boat and leave. We’re going to be left picking up the pieces and garbage until the next cruise ship arrives.”
Poynter has two new projects in the works near and adjacent to the port – a multi-use pavilion on Second Street next to his putt-putt business and a 19-room boutique motel on Front Street next to the port’s warehouse complex.
“When downtown is busy there’s a lot of people and these are people who live on the island, some are day-trippers, now you’re adding hundreds more people to that and now you tell me about that improves the quality of life,” Poynter said.
Charlie and Janet Calhoun purchased a home on Dade Street near the port several years ago and became concerned with the amount of truck traffic to the port on Dade.
“Our concerns coming to this meeting was noise and the potential smell from fertilizer the port said it wanted to have come in,” Charlie Calhoun said.
“The flow of traffic in town is a great concern to us, not just on Dade and Eighth Street,” Janet Calhoun said. “We’re like this wonderful little community so adding more cruise ships and traffic would be terrible. The concern is these bigger plans for the future.”
Taina Christner is a downtown homeowner who said she left the workshop with some answers to questions but others were unmet.
“I would support cruise ships if they would put a cap on the passenger size of 500 people in the master plan but I was told they don’t want to limit it. Without a limit on passengers, I’m passionately against it,” she said. “I’m not convinced cruise passengers will have a positive economic impact on downtown Fernandina. Having been on cruises I know you get breakfast, lunch and dinner, so why pay for lunch outside. I not convinced these passengers will be looking at the type of shops we offer. I think it’s a big influx of people without the economic impact we’re looking for.”
William Elder has lived on the island for 42 years and is concerned about the environmental impact of the port on air quality.
“There is no electrical capability to the ships so they run their boilers continuously throwing pollutants into the air. Now coupled with the two paper mills and the truck traffic and you’ve got a lot of air pollution,” Elder said. “The only way for the port to grow is more containers and that’s more trucks.”
Port officials said comments and written statements from the workshop will be documented and the master plan adjusted accordingly. The port master plan will be presented to the Ocean Highway and Port Authority Commission at its second meeting in February for approval. The plan, if approved, would then be presented to the City of Fernandina Beach City Commission for approval.
“That gives us another month to consider if we need another workshop,” Kaufman said.
Measure twice, cut once. Not only ship size, I worry also about fertilizer storage and it’s explosive potential.
Fertilizer is poison in the air. No way that should be allowed, ever .
Karen… Beirut explosion… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tN69l78_Crc
Thank you Mike for a terrific summary of the meeting. You’re as good a reporter as you were a mayor!
So, these cruise ship passengers are not going to sleep in our hotels, they’re not going to eat in our restaurants, but they’re going to get on buses and expel pollutants. How is that a plus for Fernandina Beach? Help me understand the positive economic impact for our city. Sounds like it’s all about enriching the port.
I definitely agree w/ Tim Poynter on all of this……no to it all.
I checked the itinerary for ocean explorer and there is no mention of Amelia island this year. However, there is next year. The brochure says that they will get on a cruise to Cumberland on Amelia island river cruises!(by the way, how did that happen)there is no mention of getting on a bus and going anywhere.
I made a mistake, they are doing it this year as well. Brochure says the same thing. Cruise on Amelia island river cruises, no buses anywhere.
As for the seven seas, there are no excursions planned for the day they will be in port. So no buses? I am against big ships coming in. I am trying to figure out where the bus thing came from.
Some of the companies not mentioned so far talk about itineraries to the Talbots, etc.
The master plan draft and the flyer mailed out to 200 residents discusses itineraries with destinations including Yulee, Callahan (White Oak and Tuscan Rose), and Kayak Amelia on the South end of the island. Busses will be needed for transport to these “pre-determined itineraries” and OHPA would “facilitate and control all of the transportation options.”
How much are the dock fees that the city will earn from the cruise lines? Has it been decided what that extra money will be spent on and if so, what? Has anyone from the city management talked to other cities like Charleston (not exactly apples to apples since Charleston is larger, but may have some parallels) to see the positive and negative implications of cruise ships to their community? Did it increase the profit of local restaurants, bars, shops, etc? And if so, does that profit outweigh the monetary and physical costs the town and citizens bare?
Cynthia the city does not earn any fees from any activity at the port, cruise ship or otherwise. The money stays with the port operator with a small portion going to OHPA. Further, the port pays no taxes to the city. They are supposed to pay $50k per year to the city (Payment In Liew Of Taxes) to help offset city expenses (for roads, fire, etc), but have not paid these for over 4 years and it is currently in litigation.
The model proposed to bus passengers to Yulee and Callahan and the South end of the island would not help local businesses.
The trolleys that presently transport people from the port emit toxic fumes. I’ve had to pull my shirt up and breathe into it and get turned off Front or Second St. while walking as soon as possible. These are regular routes for bicyclists and pedestrians. We are creating a supposed “pedestrian friendly” area. The two don’t go together. Where is the communication among planners. Adding more pollution to what is already too much is going to poison us all, to an even greater degree. This is an old, quaint neighborhood that has been here for a long, long time. People live here, it’s simply a neighborhood with a “Centre St.” It isn’t suitable for any of these new uses proposed. More traffic, hassle, and pollution will affect everyone on and off the island. At least Jolley Trolley in Dunedin and Clearwater Beach, FL are clean running and efficiently organized. jolleytrolley.com Get these gassy toxic buggys off our streets. We don’t need ships dieseling sending additional pollution into the town. People cruising won’t put heads in beds, and the lodging industry could lose out, too.
Cruise ships will bring business downtown….period. A good thing.
And they will help the port financially. A good thing.
As long as the port exists, there will be pressure on folks who chose to live nearby.
Just like there is pressure on folks who chose to live near 8th with all the log trucks.
Spoken by one who experienced that……
“And they will help the port financially. A good thing.” Yeah okay, then perhaps the port authority will pay up on the now $200,000 they owe the city and continue to pay their fair share into the future.
True enough,,,,maybe at commit to future PILOT payments….past is past.
Have not all those who have commented below yet understood that what they say or want is “irrelevant”? Think RV “park” at Sadler and Ryan Streets, think the airport “arrival terminal”, Think closing Bret’s, etc. Surely The Port Masters know what is good for you the taxpayers….no? (and payers of their $50,000 per year and perks, etc.). Common sense People, people getting free food and booze on a Cruze are NOT going into downtown restaurants, Farmers Markets, etc. or anywhere else. They are “looking for something to do”. A 20 plus year Farmers Market veteran, we call them, “Lookie Sees Lookie Do’s”.
Next up, we’ll need massive bathrooms supplied by the Tourist Commission courtesy of we the people who live here. Free of course! ….all you have to do is watch your quality of live go down the drain……. Tired of someone else Poop? …….Move. That’s the message to Amelia Island residents (those rich people from “up North” who bailed this place out back in 2010) courtesy of your mainland Nassau County residents. Geeze….and I thought I was smart? Not.
My major concern is the lack of coordination of communications between OPHA, the Port Operator and the City. Previously, OPHA indicated they weren’t even aware of the discussions taking place. Ocean Explorer indicates through their website that their cruise stopping in Fernandina won’t take place until May 2024. At a minimum price of $15,000 per person for the 21 day cruise, I don’t think these customers are going to worry about running back to the ship for lunch. Still plenty of time for Vantage Travel to add more shore excursions as Amelia River Cruises can’t handle all their passengers, plus the cruise lines make a tidy profit on their deals with the excursion providers. What is the experience with the downtown merchants with the 100 passenger American Cruise Lines ships that embark from the City marina a a dozen times a year? They offer a handful of shore excursions from kayaking to walking and trolley tours. Don’t see why Vantage wouldn’t want to berth at the City Marina rather than the port and avoid the hassles created by Port security requirements. Has Oasis made any attempt to get this small ship business?
Lots of questions.