Fernandina Port dropped the ball on federal grant reporting

By Wes Wolfe
March 26, 2022

The job was the responsibility of the port director, a position that’s been vacant since August.

An independent auditor has found that the Fernandina Port has been negligent in its quarterly grant reporting.

The finding is the latest piece in the ongoing drama between the Fernandina Port Authority and the man heading the company that runs the port.

“You can see, if you go to Page 27 (of the report), you have two federal/state grants that were in excess of $1 million — the Department of Transportation grant, $1.039 million, and the Florida … seaport grant program, $1.7 million,” said Pierre LaPorte, accountant for the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA), at the OHPA’s recent board meeting.

“Each one of those grants obviously comes with a grant agreement, the auditor reviews those and ensures that we are in compliance with the grant agreements.

However, there was a notation of a problem with reports.

“The Authority did not submit its quarterly progress reports timely, that’s basically what it’s saying,” OHPA Chairman Danny Fullwood said, referencing the report given to board members.

The federal grant requires quarterly filings, LaPorte said.

“Who’s responsible for that?” Fullwood asked.

Nine seconds passed before LaPorte responded, “I don’t know.”

He and Fullwood discussed the issue before settling on the idea that the OHPA executive director is where the buck stops.

The port presently has no director.

Nassau Terminals CEO Chris Ragucci served in the role for around two years, but the OHPA board voted him out in August because of behavior that’s landed him and his companies as defendants in several active lawsuits.

The Port Authority committed to filing the reports on time, LaPorte said. Since there’s no evidence that last year’s first, second and third quarter reports were mailed, they’re refiling those reports. The Port Authority will also file the fourth quarter report and set up a system to prevent this sort of situation from reoccurring.

“Obviously, we want to make sure we stay current with this — this could affect our ability to get future federal grants,” LaPorte said, agreeing to take over handling the reports until the Port Authority names a new director.

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Tammi Kosack
Tammi Kosack(@tammi-kosack)
1 year ago

So two of the unfiled reports were during the timeframe when the port operator was acting as port director. The shell game of federal money continues. How deep will it get?