Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 27, 2015 1:00 p.m.
On January 22, 2015, the Planning Advisory Board (PAB) of the city of Fernandina Beach met as a subcommittee of the whole to consider public comment on an application for a code change submitted by two local citizens—Chip Ross and Chuck Hall– in December 2014. Ross, who was subsequently appointed to serve on the Planning Advisory Board, recused himself during consideration of this item.
This application arose out of concerns raised by potential expansion of industrial activities at the Port of Fernandina as published in a draft Master Plan adopted by the Ocean, Highway and Port Authority last year. The background and issues involved in this application were covered extensively in an earlier Fernandina Observer article entitled PAB subcommittee formed to consider code language on hazardous material use and storage in Fernandina Beach published on December 11, 2014.
PAB Chair Len Kreger called Peter Bergel, Fernandina Beach Fire Rescue Deputy Chief for Operations, to address the board and the audience on current protocols and procedures regarding handling hazardous materials in the city. Bergel reported that the city performs annual inspections on all commercial activities that store hazardous materials. He said that the city could respond to minor spills (under 100 gallons), but that the city has a mutual aid agreement with Jacksonville to assist in larger accidents. He added that there are more than 300 codes that govern different facilities and types of hazard; they are detailed and in depth. The codes cover storage, operations, delivery and transfer of hazardous materials.
Kreger opened the public hearing and eight people, in addition to the two applicants, spoke. Several speakers expressed concern over what appears to be the current lack of any warning system to alert the public should an accident with hazardous materials occur. Kreger responded that there are systems in place, but that they are not all in one place, adding to the public’s concern. He said that efforts were underway outside the PAB purview to correct this situation.
Other speakers talked about the adverse impact of windborne toxins, concerns over Jacksonville’s response time in case of an emergency, and the problems that would be created by allowing cruise ships with more than 500 passengers to embark/debark from the island.
Russell Schweiss, representing Rayonier Advanced Materials, expressed concerns that to label the mills as a non-conforming use would guarantee the obsolescence of their facilities, because operations would not be allowed to expand beyond their current state. He said that grandfathering them at the status quo would remove any incentive to invest in their operations. In response to a previous speaker’s suggestion that commercial operations might limit their inventories of hazardous materials and recycle when possible, Schweiss replied, “We are smart enough to optimize our inventories.” He said that Rayonier believes that the original proposal before the PAB is too broad and restrictive, creating possible legal situations with each change the mill wanted to make.
Chip Ross, one of the applicants requesting the change, reminded the PAB and the audience that the original application had been modified in December. At this point, the applicants are looking to ban four activities from the city: banana fumigation facilities, cruise line terminals servicing ships with more than 500 passengers, petroleum refining and petroleum distribution facilities. Ross said that Rayonier was a conforming use. Of the seven prohibited accessory uses proposed, he suggested that these represented the applicants’ desire to ban future such activities, not as punitive actions against current commercial operations. He allowed that everyone might not agree with the prohibitions he proposed.
Chuck Hall, the second applicant, also addressed the PAB to reinforce that this application was in no way intended to adversely impact the mills. Citing his and his family’s past association with the mills, he said, “It would be a long stretch for me to limit the financial ability of the mill. I understand how important they are to the community. This proposal has not been developed to hurt or restrict them in any way.” Hall went on to say that the proposed prohibitions were added to protect people from future development or activities involving hazardous materials. “These [proposed prohibited] activities affect small towns and are not good for the community.”
Kreger reminded the audience that the proposed changes originated with two private citizens, not the city. “People can go out on their own to request changes,” he said. “They don’t have to wait for the government [to do so].”
There appeared to be some confusion among audience members and PAB members as to whether they were considering the original application, termed very broad by the Nassau County Economic Development Board and the mills, or the amended application submitted at the December 10 hearing. Ross clarified that the amended application was the one to be considered. He said that the only item that might affect the mills was storage of coal.
Kreger closed the public hearing after 45 minutes, noting that everyone who had wanted to speak had been given the opportunity. PAB member Jon Lasserre expressed his opinion that the four prohibited uses under consideration “are not on the radar or realistic.” Member Mark Bennett reminded the PAB that should the mills ever close, such activities could be considered as replacements. Lasserre continued, saying that he felt only a cruise terminal had any real possibility for the city and that people needed to make known their feelings on this possibility. He also said that the PAB should address locations for LNG fueling, since that appears to be the wave of the future. He concluded by saying that he did not know that coal storage was causing a problem.
With the conclusion of public input, Chair Kreger declared the work of the subcommittee concluded and asked for the application to return to the regular PAB meeting for consideration at its February 11, 2015 meeting that will be held at 5:00 p.m. in Fernandina Beach City Hall Chambers.
The Fernandina Beach City Commission and the Planning Advisory Board will hold a joint workshop on January 28, 2015 at 3:30 p.m. in Fernandina Beach City Hall Chambers to discuss the role of the Local Planning Agency under Florida Statutes.