Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
July 9, 2015 8:16 a.m.
Local Fernandina Beach resident Lynn Williams presented the Fernandina Beach City Commissioners with an update on his project experimenting with water injection dredging as a means of keeping the Fernandina city marina silt free during the July 7, 2015 Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) meeting. Williams, who has a history of involvement with committees and issues involving the city marina and riverfront, also serves as a commissioner of the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND). His partner in these experiments has been local shrimper David Cook, who owns riverfront property south of the city marina. This project was financed with an $8,000 grant from the FBCC in May 2013, but it encountered many obstacles in the permitting process before the state would allow the experiment to proceed.
During a 35-minute presentation, Williams reported that his prototype dredge “works well.” He recapped information provided previously on the siltation problem in the city marina, along with information on water injection dredging taken from Van Oord publications, a Dutch firm that has long experience in this process. Williams explained that the Dutch process involves a much larger vessel than could be used in the Fernandina marina. The prototype dredge that he and Cook built scales the process to fit in a smaller setting in 15 feet of water.
Williams presented slides showing the dredge itself as well as results of initial dredging. He credited ATM (Applied Technology and Management, Inc.) with assisting him in this experiment. He presented commissioners with a jar of water from the marina that contains silt. He explained that although the silt particles are extremely fine, over the course of a year they account for the addition of 14-20 inches of silt to the marina basin floor.
He reported that the state has allowed the city to amend its dredging permit to allow this activity known as hydro leveling until 2022.
Williams expressed his belief that marina staff could use this type of dredge on even a daily basis for a low cost solution to keeping slips open in the marina. He said that currently the city loses 36-40 slips due to siltation build up. If these slips could be made available regularly, the city could realize an additional income of $21,600 monthly in slip rental.
Changing direction slightly, Williams said that boats in slips are also an impediment to water flow in the marina. He presented slides demonstrating a device that acts somewhat like an oscillating fan to keep silt away from the boats and docks. He estimated that if the city would purchase 30 of these devices and modify them to work with the tides, the city might be able to completely eliminate the need for dredging. The device is currently sold for $1,900, but Williams felt that with a large quantity the city could get a better price.
He estimated that it would cost $85-100,000 to build his dredge on the prototype model. He said that the city would want it to be operably by one person and be transportable so that it might be rented to other users. Williams said he was absolutely certain that the marina could be made into a profitable enterprise if the silt problem were handled. He also said that to his knowledge no one else in the United States is working on such a device.
Vice Mayor Johnny Miller asked Williams if he had done a patent search, and Williams said he had not. Miller asked if Williams was asking the FBCC for additional funding. Williams replied that there is a firm near Gainesville that he believes could construct the dredge, and that if the city would pay half the cost, he was optimistic that the other half of the cost could be obtained through grants. Miller continued, asking if the city would own technology and have the patent on such a dredge. “I would think so,” Williams replied, “but the likelihood of patent ability is pretty small.” Miller continued asking questions about how much use the dredge would get in the city marina, whether it would be used every day, every month, etc. Williams said that he thought the Corps of Engineers might be interested in buying one and suggested that the city might make money in terms of royalties of $10,000 per unit sold or rents.
Commissioner Pat Gass thanked Williams and Cook for their work and suggested that perhaps time had come to pass this along to others who could help develop a more specific proposal to include construction specifics, funding sources, time to achieve return on investment, etc. “This might be a little more than you and David [Cook] might want to do for the $8,000 we’ve invested in this project.” Williams said, “If you are interested in going forward with this, I think I can take it through the next step: here’s what the machine would look like, here’s what it would cost, plus or minus a thousand dollars or so. I can narrow that down.”
Gass said, “I’m very interested in getting more information and the cost, the cost recovery, and the whole picture before we just jump off the cliff.” Williams asked for a month to bring back more information.
Commissioner Tim Poynter echoed some of Gass’ concerns. “I’d like you to tighten up your proposal with actual costs and everything that goes along with it,” he said to Williams. “I’m not sure that the city would want to invest in an experimental project, but it might be something that citizens are interested in doing as private investors. I’m not sure it makes sense for the city to invest in a one-off type of product.”
Williams said that he has been bothered by comments that suggest “somehow this is a scheme Williams is promoting to try to sell to the city. It just flatly isn’t. It’s something that I find quite interesting to work at. I appreciate your point, though, and you will need more than that.”
“I think the citizens will need more than that,” Poynter continued. “Now you are talking $100k, $200K among friends. And that’s real money.”
Commissioner Robin Lentz asked Williams if by combining the raking and the dredging, the experiment had stayed within the turbidity levels set by the DEP. Williams responded that it had.
During Public Input, Mayor Boner recognized Clinch Kavanaugh, a local citizen who has filed seeking a seat on the Fernandina Beach City Commission. Kavanaugh acknowledged that he was the author of the phrase “Magical Mud Machine” with respect to Williams’ project. “I think we are rapidly reaching the point,” he said, “where we need to have a written report from Mr. Williams and if it goes any further, then we need an actual business plan. Ms. Gass referenced that as well. I don’t know how many machines we are supposed to have. The only way it can work is at ebb tide, and that means that half your day is gone. With one person operating it, it will only be able to operate 4 hours a day. For all these things and costs, it is something you need to consider before it goes too far. And then you should have ATM sign off on it so it all makes sense when you have the public’s money involved.”
Gass said, “When it comes to money, we don’t have any.”
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.