By Mike Lednovich
Fernandina Beach Mayor Bradley Bean disregarded the numerous obstacles in constructing a riverfront flood protection barrier and stated, “We’re going to build a perfect wall,” at Tuesday night’s city commission meeting.
The city commission is seeking to place a $25 million bond referendum for voter approval on the August election ballot. If passed, $21 million would be used to construct a contiguous flood protection wall from the current Atlantic Seafood building location, north to the Port of Fernandina.
“This project is about a seawall, a river walk, that’s going to protect our city. That’s going to provide public access up and down the entire Amelia River. It’s such a great project,” Bean said in closing commission discussion on adopting the city’s top priorities.
Among the issues still unresolved regarding a flood wall plan that were discussed included:
–The city does not own eight riverfront properties that would be required to construct a contiguous flood prevention wall.
–There are no formal agreements in place with those property owners to grant city easements to build a wall or to allow the public along the shoreline.
–If easements are obtained, will the city pay for the flood wall to be built on those private properties?
–The private properties represent significant gaps in flood prevention plans if the city were to move forward with a wall constructed only on city property.
–The $21 million on a proposed bond is a current construction estimate, and actual costs to build a flood wall could exceed the bond funding by the time the project is put out for bids.
Fernandina Beach voters have to approve the bond.
In his closing, Bean only acknowledged that “We’re not going to build a wall with a hole in it.”
City Commissioner Chip Ross supported delaying the bond referendum vote until the November election.
“There is a gap to the south, there’s a gap to the north and there’s a gap in the middle of it,” Ross said. “Can the city come up with how we’re going to deal (with that) with the design so if we go to referendum we can tell the city residents exactly what is going to be funded with seawall protection.”
Interim City Manager Charlie George said the floodwall project consultant is addressing the issue of gaps in the proposed wall.
“Going north there are two properties the city does not own … there are private entities that are onboard with the waterfront project, and then there’s a gap that goes toward the port. We’re looking into that, we’re still trying to work all that out, and that’s part of the process of the design,” George said.
George said city staff will formulate options in those areas of private ownership if the city fails to obtain easements for the wall for city commission consideration.
Ross asked George if city taxpayer funds would be used to build the flood wall on privately owned properties.
“That’s up to the city commission,” George answered.
Commissioner Darron Ayscue supported a robust series of public input meetings regarding the bond issue.
“What I would like to see with this commission is that we have a very good, very strong vetting period with our community,” Ayscue said. “I want to make sure our community is ready for this to be on the referendum. I want them to have all the information possible. If we have to push it back to November, I’m okay with that.”
Former Vice Mayor Len Kreger voiced concerns about areas prone to flooding in the city that are not part of the flood wall project funding.
“My concern is that when you build this seawall it will protect Front Street. What won’t happen is that with the rest of the city you will have flooding on Escambia and you will have flooding on Egan’s Creek south of Atlantic and Sadler and you will have hundreds of homes inaccessible. You can’t forget about the rest of the city,” Kreger said. “Also, if the bond issue fails, what is the plan?”
George said the consultants are also looking at the entrance to Egan’s Creek just north of the port to address flooding issues associated with the creek.
“We’re looking at a concept for some kind of storm water control structure in that area,” George said. “We are aware of just the water coming over the first part of Front Street. We’re looking at what those costs would be and how it would be implemented.”
Flood wall protection plans are expected to be completed by the end of February.