Port Master Plan … or not?

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
August 18, 2014 8:25 p.m.

Question to Port Authority from local citizens:  When is a master plan not a master plan?

Answer from Richard Bruce, District 1 Port Commissioner:

When it’s a research document.

Planning Advisory Board members (l-r):  Chair Len Kreger, Vice Chair Judith Lane, Member Mark Bennett
Planning Advisory Board members (l-r): Chair Len Kreger, Vice Chair Judith Lane, Member Mark Bennett

Close to 50 people attended the first meeting of the city Planning Advisory Board (PAB) Subcommittee on the Port Master Plan meeting at City Hall at 3:00 p.m. Monday, August 18, 2014.  Attendees were prepared to ask questions and provide input on the 240-page Port Master Plan submitted in June to the City of Fernandina Beach by the Ocean, Highway and Port Authority as background to changing the Port Element of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.  Presented publicly to the full Planning Advisory Board at their August meeting, this plan was fraught with problems and obstacles, according to members of the public who spoke at the PAB’s August 13 meeting.  Under the leadership of PAB Chair Len Kreger, the PAB authorized formation of a subcommittee to examine both the Port Master Plan and the public concerns.

Richard Bruce, Ocean Highway and Port Authority Commissioner from District 1, which includes the City of Fernandina Beach, joined PAB members Len Kreger, Judith Lane and Mark Bennett to listen and respond to public concerns over elements of the Port Master Plan previously presented at the last PAB meeting in 57 slides by plan consultant Brian Wheeler of the Genesis Group on behalf of the Port Authority.

As a result of the 2-hour subcommittee meeting, Chair Kreger agreed to set a second subcommittee meeting for Thurday, August 21 at 3:00 p.m. in Commission Chambers to continue discussion with the public over traffic concerns resulting from the new plan, as well as impacts on the neighboring residential areas and local business.  Other topics to be addressed at future meetings include impact on wetlands, dredging, and existing port facilities.

The City is attempting to schedule a subcommittee meeting on August 26 that will include all available Port Commissioners to address public concerns.Miscommunication/poor communication

PAB Chair Kreger invited Port Commissioner Richard Bruce to join the PAB subcommittee for the discussion.
PAB Chair Kreger invited Port Commissioner Richard Bruce to join the PAB subcommittee for the discussion.  Senior Planner Kelly Gibson sits in the background.

Port Commissioner Richard Bruce explained to PAB members and the public that the 240-page document labeled a “Port Master Plan,” was in fact a research document, not a plan to which the Port Authority had committed.  He said that the Port’s consultant had included every possible scenario, no matter how unrealistic, that the Port might consider pursuing over the next 10 years.  He and Kinder Morgan commercial director Val Schwec agreed that certain items in that document – like filling in wetlands and extensive dredging to bring in larger ships – were unrealistic and impractical. 

Kinder Morgan operates Nassau Terminals LLC, the port operation itself.  Schwec emphasized that the Port has been in an economic slump since the Great Recession and the loss of the Port’s major shipper.  He said that the absolute maximum that the Port could handle was 720T, slightly above the high of 647T the Port had recorded in 2011.

Bruce and Schwec also made a point to say that the maximum number of trucks that could be handled daily was about 168.  That number included everything from food service vans to container trucks.  The numbers being cited of 700 or 4,000 trucks daily were “just plain wrong.”  Schwec added that the Port accounts for about 2% of truck traffic on the island.  Both Schwec and Bruce indicated problems with the document that has caused so much consternation in the community, reinforcing the fact that nothing in the document can be done without proper permitting and approval of all necessary local governments and regulatory agencies.

Schwec said that his goal is to return the port’s traffic and business level to 2011 levels, or a bit higher.  He said that the existing port facility could not accommodate the shipping traffic/tonnage called for in the Master Plan document.

PAB responds

PAB Chair Len Kreger reminded the audience that as a duly elected public body, only the Port Authority could change the plan.  The PAB subcommittee will make recommendations to the full PAB, which will then make recommendations to the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) with respect to adopting, rejecting or modifying the plan as presented.

The port Master Plan is incorporated by reference into the city’s Comprehensive Plan, but the port element of the Comprehensive Plan must be reviewed with respect to how it meshes with the Economic Development Element of the Comp Plan as well.  PAB Member Mark Bennett, who remained silent for most of the discussion, reminded the audience that the Port Master Plan does not automatically approve actions contained therein.  Should the Port want to proceed with any action from that document, it must go through all the public hearings, permitting and public scrutiny before the action can be implemented.  City staff added that if the city were to reject the Port Master Plan outright, the city and the port would be required to enter into mediation to reach an agreement.

Crux of the issue

Members of the public express their frustration with the Port Master Plan.
Members of the public express their frustration with the Port Master Plan.

Many members of the public spoke to their unhappiness with items listed in the master plan, such as dramatically increased traffic and tonnage levels, the possibility of the Port building a refinery or constructing a bridge to St. Marys, and other issues.

Despite numerous and emphatic denials that the Port had any intentions of taking on such projects, audience members kept drawing attention to the fact that these matters and numbers appeared in the document which has been labeled the Port’s Master Plan.  The question to the Port became:  If the Port Authority does not wish to pursue these projects, why didn’t it remove them from the document before forwarding such to the city as their proposed Master Plan?

Port Commissioner Richard Bruce
Port Commissioner Richard Bruce

Port Commissioner Richard Bruce reminded the audience that the master plan has been under discussion for a year and that despite numerous, advertised meetings, no one from the audience ever attended a Port Authority meeting to raise a question or a concern.  He invited the audience members to attend the September 10, 2014 meeting at 6:00 p.m. at the James S. Page Governmental Center in Yulee to express their concerns to the entire Port Authority Board.

Public Comment

Taking advantage of a relatively informal setting, members of the public raised a variety of concerns about impacts of the proposed Port Master Plan.

Chair Kreger captured the major concerns as topics for future subcommittee meetings:  traffic, wetlands, dredging, impact on residential neighborhoods and buildings, adequacy of existing port facilities, possible structural damage to buildings from truck traffic, and whether the plan was a plus or minus for local businesses.  Future subcommittee meetings will focus on these concerns.

Audience members express concern and outrage over Port's Master Plan as presented
Audience members express concern and outrage over Port’s Master Plan as presented

PAB to Port

Send input and comments to Senior Planner Kelly Gibson, kgibson@fbfl.org
Send input and comments to Senior Planner Kelly Gibson, [email protected]

PAB Vice Chair Judith Lane suggested to Commissioner Bruce that the Port Authority might want to distill the “research document” currently labeled as a Master Plan into a true master plan to reflect what the body really wants to do.  She said that as it exists, the document is unreadable and unmanageable.

In response to an audience question, Chair Kreger said that the subcommittee would not be reviewing the 240-page Master Plan with an eye toward redlining what it does not like.  He advised that public comment, in any form, be sent to Kelly Gibson [email protected] so that all comments can be compiled for consideration by the entire subcommittee.  Kreger stressed that this is the Port Authority’s plan, not the city’s.  He said that the PAB is reviewing the plan for consistency and compliance with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.  Changing the plan is up to the Port Authority.

The next meeting of the PAB subcommittee is set for 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 21 at City Hall Commission Chambers.  The primary topic to be addressed will be traffic impacts on the city, residents, buildings and businesses caused by increased truck traffic to the port.  The public is invited to participate.

Suanne ThammEditor’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.

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Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_20982)
9 years ago

I submit the following concerns:

1. No substantial recommendations were made about connecting or using our existing port rail line directly to the CSX/Norfolk Southern rail junction near Callahan, using single or double stacked rail cars to transport containers into and out of Fernandina for further movement by both major rail lines – or to an intermodel transfer facility closer to less impacted surface transportation routes.

2. No discussion or recommendation about a possible intermodel transfer facility on the existing rail line out of Fernandina near the Nassau Tradeplex industrial park off A1A, on the east side of Rt 17.

3. No discussion about how proposed highway traffic increases would impact hurricane or storm evacuations from north and south Amelia Island and the eastern part of Nassau County.

4. No discussion about the nature of trucks and drivers performing drayage services (older trucks with increased risks of accidents and pollution, driver qualifications, etc.).

5. No discussion about increased port – and container – security, given the direct line of site between the Port and the Trident Nuclear Submarine Base (all East Coast Trident Submarines) at Kings Bay.

6. No discussion about why increased container capacity is needed at all, given the adjacent container ports of Jacksonville and Brunswick – each with direct rail links to intermodel surface transfer facilities. Would a cruise line focus serve the business, resort, conservation, and retirement communities of this area better?

7. No discussion concerning storage of containers outside of the port area.. In and around Portsmouth, Va. they are stored everywhere.
8. No real discussion concerning movement of containers into the port (I may have missed it).

9. Bare mention of the use of barge traffic and a barge intermodel transfer facility as an alternate means of moving containers other than relying on surface drayage through the main streets of Fernandina Beach.

10. Who wins and who loses with this plan? The folks of Fernandina and the rest of Amelia Island, including the Ritz Carlton and Omni resorts – and surrounding upscale reidential areas, have much to lose.

In brief, I see movement along the present course of this plan highly destructive of the nature of this community with nothing in return.

Faith Ross
Faith Ross (@guest_20983)
9 years ago

Mr. Bruce of the Port Authority may truly believe that all of the material in the proposed Master Plan is “unrealistic”. But I would like to point out that what is “printed” in the Master Plan is what is to be “approved”. And if anyone would care to read in Appendix D, Pg D-3, Port Development, ” The Ocean Highway and Port Authority shall (please note the word “shall” for the legal types out there) pursue the phased planning and development, consistent with the Port Master Plan.”
Also in Appendix D, Pg D-3, Policy 5P.01.01, “The Ocean Highway and Port Authority shall (that word “shall” again) acquire land and work with other land owners as needed to support Port development and economic growth.” (The Port Authority has the power to condemn land.) “Specific plans for lands added to the Port’s ownership shall be reflected in the next update of the Port Master Plan.”
The fact still remains that the traffic levels listed in the proposed Master Plan would bring Amelia’s traffic to a stand still if this Master Plan were implemented. Even Mr. Bruce admitted that 2,000 containers were too much for the Island. The submitted plan states that you “shall” do these things. Please give us all peace and tell us in writing what the Ocean Highway and Port Authority really “shall” do in the future.
We all love this Island, and Mr. Bruce also spoke of his desire to not change it. However, the proposed Master Plan as written allows 3 ships berthed with 2,000+ containers each. We cannot tell the Port to only use rail. Trucking is cheaper. And if Pogy Point is purchased, as listed in the proposed Master Plan, the truck traffic will go up and down 14th St. and Sadler.
On Pg. 4-8 “The Containerized ISA form of LNG export is well suited to the Port of Fernandina and is the preferred method of delivery. . . ” “Belvedere is interested in partnering with the OHPA to both provide ISA tanker distribution through the Port (via rail) and development of an import platform for refined fuels at an ancillary location.” If this is not what the OHPA is going to do, please put it in writing. LNG can be highly explosive, and do the citizens of Amelia Island want to be part of the refined fuels (gasoline, oil, propane, etc.) network especially by train or truck? And will Pogy Point (zoned industrial) be the ancillary location?
Help us make some educated decisions. The document submitted must either be accepted or rejected. Citizens need to make their wishes known, or we “shall” end up with what is written in the proposed Master Plan for the OHPA

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
9 years ago
Reply to  Faith Ross

Have you ever driven by the spur tracks at Rayonier and seen the railroad tanker cars filled with sulphuric acid?

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_20984)
9 years ago

Think it’s time for our candidates for city and county office, including Steve Kelly and George Spicer, review the proposed plan and take a position – before this election.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
9 years ago

I just wonder that if the Port Authority didn’t really view this as a “finished” master plan document why does it say on Page 2 “The Ocean Highway and Port Authority formally adopted this Master Plan Update on February 12, 2014.”?
My reading of the document didn’t give me any sense of it being only various scenarios as there was only one scenario given and that was what would be required to increase the port’s infrastructure to support handling 200,000+ TEUs by the year 2013. Thank you Len, Judy and Mark for your time and efforts to allow the community to provide their input. To paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, the port representatives “have some explaining to do” so the community can understand their true intentions.

chip ross
chip ross (@guest_20987)
9 years ago

The proposed “research tool” clearly is the Ports’ Proposed Master Plan. Unfortunately, at the cost of $100,000 tax payer dollars it does not seem to meet the statutory requirements mandated by the legislature. [see below]

chip ross

Florida Statute
Seaport Planning
(2) Each port shall develop a strategic plan with a 10-year horizon. Each plan must include the following:
(a) An economic development component that identifies targeted business opportunities for increasing business and attracting new business for which a particular facility has a strategic advantage over its competitors, identifies financial resources and other inducements to encourage growth of existing business and acquisition of new business, and provides a projected schedule for attainment of the plan’s goals.
(b) An infrastructure development and improvement component that identifies all projected infrastructure improvements within the plan area which require improvement, expansion, or development in order for a port to attain a strategic advantage for competition with national and international competitors.
(c) A component that identifies all intermodal transportation facilities, including sea, air, rail, or road facilities, which are available or have potential, with improvements, to be available for necessary national and international commercial linkages and provides a plan for the integration of port, airport, and railroad activities with existing and planned transportation infrastructure.
(d) A component that identifies physical, environmental, and regulatory barriers to achievement of the plan’s goals and provides recommendations for overcoming those barriers.
(e) An intergovernmental coordination component that specifies modes and methods to coordinate plan goals and missions with the missions of the Department of Transportation, other state agencies, and affected local, general-purpose governments.
To the extent feasible, the port strategic plan must be consistent with the local government comprehensive plans of the units of local government in which the port is located. Upon approval of a plan by the port’s board, the plan shall be submitted to the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
9 years ago

Chip, I think the “Master Plan” does meet all the requirements of the strategic plan that you outlined and the meetings with the PAB and City Commission are in concert with the (e) requirement. One would think they would also have to go before the Nassau County Commission as well but maybe they are starting with the City. If I read the summary right of the first presentation to the PAB the plan was behind schedule. That may explain the need to get this done before the end of 2014 to meet the 10 year requirement as the document only projects through 2023.

chuck hall
chuck hall(@bob)
9 years ago

The Port manager stated at the PAB sub-committee meeting, that he just wanted to get back to the 2011 sales figures.
So, what is holding that up? Sales and marketing? We know they can handle that amount with what they already have. This should not even be a discussion, but now they seem to be upping the ante and for reasons unknown.
Why won;t they agree to limit their traffic. why not provide proper truck queuing in the residential neighborhoods? Why not?
Simply put, if you own a port that is allowed to do anything, then it is far more valuable to a potential investor/owner/manager….. but what happens to Fernandina?

Jamie Morrill
Jamie Morrill (@guest_21002)
9 years ago

The vast majority of Fernandina Beach residents are very much opposed to supporting the direction the plan proposes, particularly since the plan document contains several unrealistic and inaccurate statements. I agree with the content comments above, but especially Robert Warner-I would like the candidates for Commissioner to publically state their position prior to the election.

walter (@guest_21063)
9 years ago

the potential plan of possibly using the harbor for a loading terminal for trucks……FORGET ABOUT IT , DON’T EVEN OPEN THAT DOOR !