Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 10, 2015 3:44 p.m.
Local environmentalist and cycling enthusiast Phil Scanlan appeared before the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) on January 6, 2015, seeking support for a water taxi that would run between Fernandina Beach and St. Marys, GA. Scanlan, who serves as CEO of Friends of Amelia Island Trail, Inc., said that he was involved in this project because of his desire to see a bike trail connection that would link Florida and Georgia as part of the East Coast Greenway. Failure to make this connection could jeopardize grant requests for Amelia Island bike trails.
Representatives of both St. Marys and Fernandina Beach are working with the East Coast Greenway Alliance to try to bring this project to fruition, following the National Park Service (NPS) denial of a NPS Ferry Franchise from Fernandina Beach to Cumberland Island, GA.
The parties recognize that such a water taxi service was tried a few years ago, but was not economical for a private vendor to maintain. Project advocates are now trying to develop financial support for a service to become economically viable over time as passenger traffic increases.
The parties have proposed three incentives to encourage and support the first two years of a water taxi service:
- Waiver of dock fees by both St. Marys and Fernandina Beach for the first two years (estimated at $10,000 per city annually);
- Marketing support by tourism development organizations in both cities to help develop and sustain passenger volume, as well as marketing support from the East Coast Greenway Alliance and the National Park Service;
- A $30,000 grant to pay for taxi fuel costs over two years.
Scanlan reported that St. Marys seems receptive to the project, and the National Park Service has endorsed the idea. In response to a question from Commissioner Pat Gass, Scanlan indicated that the plan is to solicit applicants interested in providing the service. A decision would be based on which operator had the best capabilities to provide the service and was most capable of developing a sustainable business operation.
Vice Mayor Johnny Miller explained that this connection is a “big deal” for the East Coast Greenway. Without it, the trail will bypass Fernandina Beach to make the connection further west.
Commissioner Tim Poynter asked the city manager to work with Westrec, the city marina manager, to find a way around the docking fee issue
Scanlan asked for and was granted permission to work with city staff to develop a resolution to return to the FBCC for action at the next meeting. Commissioners thanked Scanlan for the work he has devoted to building and maintaining island trails, in addition to his work on this project.
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.