By Mike Lednovich
After 18 months of work, the Ocean Highway Port Authority unanimously approved its master plan Wednesday, most notable for what it excluded in order to safeguard the quality of life for neighboring Fernandina Beach homeowners and the historic downtown. After hearing from the public and a stakeholders committee numerous times, OHPA commissioners approved a 200-page plan that excludes hosting cruise ships, restricts the geographic size of the port to its current footprint and abandoned plans to have a second port entrance on Escambia Street.
Among the significant aspirations of the master plan are:
–Addressing improved management of truck traffic in and out of the port.
— A stated OHPA opposition to importing fertilizer and aggregates such as cement powder and rock (although the current port agreement allows the port operator to make that final decision).
–A 5-year capital improvement plan to address ongoing maintenance issues.
–A flood protection plan.
–A plan to reduce air pollution and dampen sound to surrounding homes by building a dense vegetative barrier around the perimeter of the port.
OHPA Chairman Danny Fullwood praised the efforts of the commission and public participation in the ongoing process of refining the final master plan document.
“The last master plan we did I was part of years ago. I’m going to admit it was a terrible plan because we didn’t reach out to the community enough,” Fullwood said. “This time we got a lot of community input … a great stakeholders committee, we had great citizens that came before us and told us what they’d like to see. There’s a lot of changes and I think we made a great improvement and we worked hard on this thing.”
Commissioner Ray Nelson emphasized that quickly shifting economic conditions could see future modifications in the plan’s strategic goals, citing the recent drop in lumber imports at the port due to rising home mortgage interest rates as an example.
“This is a plan, our intention moving forward,” Nelson said. “It’s not something (written) in stone. There’s probably going to be changes as we go along.”
Tammi Kosack, a nearby homeowner and member of the stakeholders committee, was one of three area residents to address the commissioners Wednesday evening.
“I want to thank you for reading all the emails, listening to all the comments to reflect what this plan represents and shaping it into the current draft plan we have before us,” she said. “Thank you for removing cruise ships, expansion of the port and a second (entrance) gate. Finally, a good plan is meaningless unless it’s executed. Your success as leaders and the governing body of our port is directly linked to how well we can execute the strategies in the plan. In many ways, the hard work begins now.”
The OHPA master plan will now be forwarded to the Fernandina Beach City Commission for a vote of approval.
City Commissioner Chip Ross, while reaffirming the limitations placed within the document, was critical of the final master plan version.
“$185,000 (cost of the plan) later, I have no idea after reading this what you intend to do for the next 10 years and how you’re going to do it,” Ross said.
“Basically it boils down to 14 aspirational statements with no direction and prioritization. I don’t think the taxpayers got $185,000 (of value). “