Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
Commissioners from the City of Fernandina Beach (FBCC) journeyed out to the James Page Governmental Center in Yulee the afternoon of December 1, 2015 to participate in a joint workshop with their counterparts on the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA). The meeting lasted just short of 90 minutes to allow each board time to host its next meeting. All commissioners attended except OHPA Commissioner Ron Braddock.
In introducing the workshop, both Fernandina Beach Mayor Ed Boner and OHPA Chair Danny Fullwood expressed their hopes that the boards would build a better working relationship characterized by a less adversarial tone at meetings and a mutual recognition of the need to begin a new dialog of working together for both city and county residents.
OHPA Charter Review
Workshop discussion centered on OHPA’s decision to create a county-wide Charter Advisory Committee (CAC) to conduct a full review of the existing charter for the purpose of updating the document that was originally created in the 1940’s. Over the past 18 months a group of Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach citizens has highlighted the need to update the charter and ensure compliance with current laws and modern requirements. OHPA has acknowledged the benefit of a full charter review.
As currently proposed, the CAC would consist of 9 members. One member would represent each of the 5 OHPA Districts; each Nassau County city would appoint a representative; and the Nassau County Economic Development Board would have a seat. The OHPA would approve all appointments. The CAC would begin meeting at least monthly in January and submit its report to the OHPA no later than August 2016. Such a time frame would give the OHPA time to study and vote on recommendations and send the revised charter to the Nassau Legislative Delegation for consideration during the 2017 Legislative Session.
While generally pleased with the OHPA’s creation of the CAC, city commissioners raised concerns that while they understand OHPA’s desire for countywide review and input, they also believe that the city of Fernandina Beach has more of a vested interest in the outcome because the port is located in the city.
In response to procedural questions, Chair Fullwood said that OHPA is developing a resume form so that interested citizens may apply for CAC seats.
City Commissioner Robin Lentz asked OHPA to consider increasing the number of committee members representing the city of Fernandina Beach. “It’s where we live,” she said. “We feel the presence of the port a lot.”
Chair Fullwood agreed to take the city’s concern under advisement.
City Commissioner Tim Poynter remarked that “things have settled a little” between OHPA and the city. “We don’t want to do anything to hurt OHPA,” he said. “I applaud you for recognizing your ‘housekeeping’ needs. This is working in the right direction.”
City Resolution in support of charter changes
OHPA Chair Fullwood, when asked to comment on the resolution Poynter will bring before the FBCC to proceed with two charter revisions prior to the full charter review, said that while he agreed with many items, residents of the entire county have not approved the proposed changes. Fullwood said, “[The citizens backing these changes] want to send them to Tallahassee next week. I don’t think that should happen.”
Poynter replied, “We are making a statement. We are putting people on notice that something is coming down the pike.”
OHPA Attorney Clyde Davis cautioned patience. “Let’s take our time and do it the right way. Update the entire charger accordingly and everybody wins.”
OHPA Chair Fullwood said that while not in agreement, he understood why the city might proceed with its narrowly drawn charter revisions at this time.
Emergency and contingency plans
OHPA Attorney Davis reported that the 1989 Kinder Morgan plan updated through 2005 has been located and resides in his office. He said he will review it to make sure that information contained therein does not compromise port security plans before releasing it to public information requests.
City Commissioner Lentz asked why it took so long to produce the plan, which has been of such concern to the community. Davis replied that OHPA does not get involved with day-to-day supervision of the port. OHPA Commissioner Carroll Franklin cited the various agencies involved in port safety review that meet quarterly to review plans. OHPA Commissioner Richard Bruce said that the practice is to plan and train. He said that the U.S. Coast Guard exercises control over ships that enter the U.S. 200 mile limit. He added that the Coast Guard also conducts random tests at port facilities to ensure that safety requirements are met. The last random test conducted at the Port of Fernandina registered 100 percent compliance.
Fullwood also reminded city commissioners that the port has recently upgraded its warehouse fire suppression systems.
The legality of PILOT—Payments In Lieu of Taxes—is currently under review by the Florida Supreme Court. City and OHPA Attorneys concurred that OHPA’s withholding of its annual $50K PILOT payment to the city in light of the court ruling was understandable. However, OHPA Attorney Davis said that should such payments to municipal General Funds be declared illegal, other means might be found to compensate the city for monies expended in support of port operations.
OHPA Chair Danny Fullwood thanked Mayor Boner for the city’s participation in the joint workshop. He said, “Working together creates a better county and better boards.”