PrintSubmitted by Faith Ross
August 12, 2014

Recently it was brought to my attention that the Port Authority of Fernandina was presenting its latest expansion plans to the Fernandina Beach City Planning Advisory Board on Wednesday night (August 13th) at 5:00 p.m. This new Master Plan contains a wealth of information that seems to directly affect the quality of life of our island.

One worrisome issue in the Master Plan was the planned increase in truck traffic on the island.  The reason for this increase is the plan’s need to bring Class C Vessels into the proposed expanded Port. According to the Port’s Master Plan, Class C Vessels carry from 2,000 to 2,900 containers (TEUs).   The Plan acknowledges that rail transport is more expensive than truck conveyance, and most of the container loads will arrive and leave by tractor trailer.

Aerial view of Port of Fernandina (courtesy expandinnassau.com)
Aerial view of Port of Fernandina (courtesy expandinnassau.com)

The Master Plan asserts that 640 truck trips will occur on AVERAGE each day.  However, the nature of shipping suggests that when the ship arrives, it will be loaded and/or unloaded at that time.  (The Master Plan suggests that each truck be turned around in 15 minutes.) Even if only 1,000 containers are taken by truck from a Class C Vessel, then there will be at least 2,000 truck trips (1,000 trucks come and 1,000 trucks leave) on our roads for one ship alone in a very short period of time (stated 36 hours). Using an average figure of 640 truck trips per day may well be a convenient number for the Port Authority, but it will probably not be the reality faced by the residents and businesses of Fernandina and Amelia Island.  The number will fluctuate greatly with the arrival of each ship. With a build out capacity of 300 ships per year, we can all do the math (almost one ship per day). And what happens when two ships arrive at once with 4,000 containers?

Freight traffic at the Port of Fernandina (courtesy expandinnassau.com)
Freight traffic at the Port of Fernandina (courtesy expandinnassau.com)

More interestingly in the traffic impact summary, there seems to be a realization that there will not be enough capacity on 8th Street to handle the additional truck traffic.  To add more capacity, mention is made of utilizing 14th Street by way of Sadler to supplement the need for more truck volumes. No one driving on 14th St. needs to be reminded that this is a very busy shopping area with school children, a nearby hospital and a fire department.  Neither does a user of Sadler need to be reminded that this is a main artery to the beach, quality shopping, and hotels. Right-hand turning onto Sadler from A1A to the beach would be any beach-goers nightmare with lines of semis in the right-hand lane, then left-hand lane, trying to get to 14th Street.

The Port’s Master Plan suggests that truck traffic may be run at night. The Port Authority is a government agency that leases its facilities to other businesses or agencies. Once the Master Plan is approved, a company or agency has no obligation to load or unload cargo ships on any specific day or hour.

If our shoppers, residents, and tourists are not able to access our thriving downtown businesses, restaurants, beach cottages, hotels, church-based schools, and our homes due to 1,000 to 2,000 trucks arriving on our island with each ship, then our way of life will inevitably change.

A copy of the updated proposed Port Authority Master Plan may be obtained from the City of Fernandina Planning Advisory Board, kgibson@fbfl.org .  (It is 240 pages long.) As stated above, the Port will be presenting its Master Plan to the Planning Advisory Board on Wednesday, August 13, 2014, 5:00 p.m. at City Hall.  Citizens need to contact members of the Planning Advisory Board and their Commissioners with their concerns and attend the meeting Wednesday night at City Hall. You may contact your Commissioners at http://www.fbfl.us/Directory.aspx?DID=84 .

The Port Authority is a government agency that will utilize millions of our tax dollars to construct the necessary improvements at the Port. Our county and city tax dollars will pay for the road repair and maintenance aligned with this proposed Master Plan. Thankfully the legislature requires that the Port gain an approved Comprehensive Master Plan before they are given public funding.  This Plan needs to be considered carefully. It is to be constructed with your money.  The City of Fernandina will be be paying for the road maintenance, Nassau County will be funding A1A repairs and the taxpayers of the state are funding the public money given to the Port Authority.

Once the Planning Approval Board recommends approval to the Commissioners, it goes to the Commissioners. The Commissioners approve it with an Ordinance that legally makes it part of the Comprehensive Plan for Fernandina Beach. They can then go to the State of Florida’s Port Authority and ask for their $54 million+.

A copy of the updated proposed Port Authority Master Plan may be obtained from the City of Fernandina Planning Advisory Board, kgibson@fbfl.org .  (It is 240 pages long.) As stated above, the Port will be presenting its Master Plan to the Planning Advisory Board on Wednesday, August 13, 2014, 5:00 p.m. at City Hall.  Citizens need to contact members of the Planning Advisory Board and their Commissioners with their concerns and attend the meeting Wednesday night at City Hall. You may contact your Commissioners at http://www.fbfl.us/Directory.aspx?DID=84 .

Faith Ross is a resident of Fernandina Beach, a former educator and reading specialist who enjoys research.

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Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_20870)
8 years ago

Just to clarify, 14th Street is also county maintained/funded but Dade and the other streets right around the Port that will be used by the truck traffic. People definately need to understand what is in the Plan and what is “fixed” and can’t be changed versus what are “intentions” and can be changed without any additional approval.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_20873)
8 years ago

Dave, my hope is that the City puts out all the information about such a big project. We need to know all the pro’s as well as the con’s concerning this. It sounds like it could have a Huge effect on the Island. The old social media is going wild over this already. Lets hope we can get all the facts and figures so good educated decisions can be made and the commission knows our feelings before a vote is taken .

Johnny Miller
Johnny Miller (@guest_20874)
8 years ago

I’m following this closely…

Len Kreger
Len Kreger (@guest_20876)
8 years ago

The Plan will be presented to the PAB on 13 Aug 2014. The PAB will not vote on the plan, it is information only.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_20880)
8 years ago
Reply to  Len Kreger

Len & Johnny,
Can you see about getting the presentation available on the City website. I looked on the City website today under the PAB agenda and packet but the presentation was not there.
At what point does the City say enough is enough? While we want the Port to be successful (and it has really struggled over the past several years) in its current footprint, we have to keep in mind the impact of increased business of this magnitude on not only the immediate historic district but the ingress and egress routes. We already see the “ruts” in A1A from the heavy logging trucks and FL DOT saying there is no solution except for laying concrete which cannot be done due to the long construction time that would be required and shutting down 8th Street down to two lanes from AIP north.

Pat Leary
Pat Leary (@guest_20883)
8 years ago

If the city and county seriously support sustainable growth and increased job opportunities, they would reject this plan, close the port and convert the property into waterfront park, restaurants, shops, marina and more. Such development would be in absolute conformity with the the island’s resort industry and create multitudes of jobs for local citizens vs. a highly mechanized port with a handful of low-income jobs. Parking, the downtown’s most pressing problem could easily be resolved via the port property and shuttle service. Time to get outside the conventional box and rethink the entire waterfront.

Eric Bartelt
Eric Bartelt(@ericbarteltgmail-com)
8 years ago
Reply to  Pat Leary

The idea of closing the port and repurposing the facility into other uses is intriguing. An idea that has been floating around for some time is to establish an oceanographic institute on Amelia Island. Given the need for research into sea level rise, one would think such an institution would be needed, especially one located on a barrier island. Perhaps the port property could be a possible location for that. I’ll take an educational institution any day over a mechanized port with negative impacts on the community’s roads and other infrastructure, quality of life, and its other major economic engine – tourism. While educational institutions provide jobs, they also provide great long term benefits to the communities in which they are located.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_20886)
8 years ago

This is essentially an issue that can make or break Fernandina Beach. All the long term efforts of many good citizens to make this city the eclectic place it is will be adversely impacted. I saw what increased container traffic did to Portsmouth, Va. It wasn’t pretty.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_20887)
8 years ago

Here is the pdf file with the complete Master Plan:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/fibmfluh6c9dm5x/OHPA%20Master%20Plan%20Update_June%202014%20all.pdf

Thank you Chuck Hall

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_20888)
8 years ago

A quite interesting read. My high level takeaways:
– Current volume at the Port has declined 56% over the last two years with 2012 volume at 14,018 Twenty Equivalent Units (TEUs) and current capacity is estimated at 50,000 TEUs. So currently running at 28% of capacity.
– The expansion that is said to be needed for 2018 is based on the assumption that the Port will get 20% of the smaller ship cargo traffic that gets diverted from the larger SE ports of Jacksonville, Savannah, etc. due to the larger ships that will be used by the freight companies taking advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal. The consultants project that the number of TEUs will increase in 2018 100,515 and more than double by 2023 to 203,376. Seems quite ambitious for a number of reasons. Wouldn’t much of the cargo currently being hauled shift over to the larger ships to gain the economies of scale?
– According to the study, there is no railroad activity from the Port, RockTenn or Rayonier between 9pm and 7 am (if true, why is a quiet zone needed?). They do indicate that handling via rail is not currently economically viable (which is the same result that came from the off-loading of logs/chips that was done a couple of years ago).
– Seems to make an assumption that the container trucks (increase of more than 500 trips through the City each day) would do so during the middle of the night so the overall impact on the major roadways (most of which are already considered “deficient” by FDOT) will be minimal.
– Calls for filling in 1.75 acres of wetlands to the north to accomodate an expansion of the dock/wharf. Expectation would be for mitigation but we all know there doesn’t exist such site availability on the Island and certainly not in the City, so the mitigation would be somewhere within the St. John’s district which would provide no environmental benefit to the City.
– I was surprised to see the wide range of business types the Port is authorized to become engaged in from hotels and restaurants to utility companies as well as building a bridge between FB and over to US 17 to connect to St. Marys.
Very interesting.

Lou Tharin
Lou Tharin (@guest_21044)
8 years ago
Reply to  Dave Lott

The study is wrong about the quiet zone of 9:00pm to 7:00am. On August 19, 2014, after I left the City Commission Meeting, a train departed the compound at 10:35pm. As required, it signaled 4 times ,crossing Dade ST. I live next door to the Port Authority office on 3rd street, so I see the trains go and come.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_20891)
8 years ago

Thanks Dave for doing the homework. Interesting point you made a “quite zone”. If that is true, why are we even considering it? Their is one problem with the quite zone. Once the city instructs Florida First Coast to stop blowing the horn as is now required under Federal Law, they will stop blowing the horn. Take this next statement to the bank,— it will happen,— it’s not an if– it’s a when— their is no doubt in my mind that we will injure or kill someone at the crossings. The Federal law was put into effect as a safety measure to prevent accidents. Even with the installation of the gating system which would be required in quite zones, ( about $500,000 plus maintenance per crossing) people are still going to get injured or killed. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but trains are not forgiving when striking people. People break rules, people drink, people don’t obey signs or crossings. The whistle is something most will hear, not always, but the system still works better than anything we have come up with since before the invention of the automobile. My question to the city has been simple. Who will be liable when someone is hit? The Rail Road will wave the paper saying, we were told to do this by the city. Who will be paying for the lawsuit and the settlement? The best answer I have been able to obtain is ” everyone gets sued anyway”. It yet again gets back to the risk and reward issue. What does the city really have to gain by establishing and maintaining a quite zone as opposed to what the city has to loose.
This is only one of what I suspect will be many questions that come forth as this plan is made public.Thanks again for your help Dave

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_20898)
8 years ago

Adding to the above comments, with container security a national issue and the U.S. Navy’s Strategic Nuclear Trident Fleet at King’s Bay clearly visible from the Shave Bridge, guess we will also put a huge target on our backs……

Len Kreger
Len Kreger (@guest_20900)
8 years ago

The PAB has formed a sub committee to review the plan in detail. The first meeting will be Monday 18 August 2014 at 3:00 pm at City Hall. The public is invited and encouraged to participate in the review and discussions.

Ron Burgundy
Ron Burgundy (@guest_20903)
8 years ago

Force the port to close down so we can increase our property values and make our neighborhoods quitter? Eliminate more jobs?

Robert Riegler
Robert Riegler (@guest_20919)
8 years ago

Lets look at the “jobs” vs. quality of life for what 13,000 plus residents of Amelia Island. The Port will close, jobs lost. Please educate me folks, 10 jobs,50 jobs,1,000 jobs?. Specific numbers please. 8th and Sadler can at times now be a disaster. If The Port can be converted into a more island user friendly use why try and turn FB into a commercial port facility? By shere volumn alone we cannot compete. That use is so dated it’s a joke, only thing folks is the joke is on us. Do you really think people will come to AI to see lines of commercial container trucks mixed with logging trucks up and down 8th and or 14th? Oh have the trucks run at night, now there a brilliant idea. The island has seemed to change for the better in the last years. Let’s not step backwards.

Jody
Jody (@guest_20922)
8 years ago
Reply to  Robert Riegler

What is a joke is not even education yourself on how many jobs will be lost. “10 jobs,50 jobs,1,000 jobs?. ” These are PEOPLE and FAMILIES! Who boost this islands economy. Are you really saying no big deal? Okay so we close the port then what’s the next target the mills I suppose? Their business/trucks is also very inconvenient for the “upper class” citizens. There are MANY people on this island worried about surviving and not how their 300k+ house will be effected by working class job expansion. You say “By shere volumn alone we cannot compete. That use is so dated it’s a joke, ” Exactly what do you base this on?

Robert Riegler
Robert Riegler (@guest_20920)
8 years ago

Interesting. I just finished reading a story in today’s NY Times, Page 6 of the Travel section about Cape Ann in MA. Like FB, had a port/fishing industry in decline. They have rebuilt themselves into a resort destination. FB Planning Dept. ….please be proactive, pick up the phone, call, email Cape Ann planning folks. You will not have to start from zero and I am sure they would gladly share their research,etc. with you. FYI, we’ve been to Cape Ann before vs. after. Nice job minus 2,000 trucks.

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