Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 9, 2016 1:01 p.m.
Fixing stormwater problems in the city of Fernandina Beach has been a top priority for several recent City Commissions. During a brief workshop on March 8, 2016, City Manager Dale Martin and the city staff most involved in fixing the problems–Utilities Department Director John Mandrick and Maintenance Department Director Rex Lester– explained what the city has already done, what remains to be done, and recommended moving forward to update studies that are almost 20 years old to see if earlier problems still exist and if new ones have arisen. Meanwhile, work will continue on projects that were planned in the Capital Improvement Plan that are already in the pipeline and funded via the existing stormwater fee that was put in place about four years ago.
City commissioners were in agreement that before moving forward on major projects, the city needed to update its data and project cost figures. Commissioner Tim Poynter said, “We want to get it done right so we can all agree and then sell it to the community.” After the engineering study is completed this year, the city will prioritize stormwater projects and commission an independent study to re-examine existing stormwater fees. That probably will not occur for another year, meaning that any rate increase will not be considered before the FY2017-18 Budget.
Martin presented a series of slides that formed the basis for the stormwater discussions. He said that the list of stormwater projects currently included in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) was developed in 2008 and updated in 2009 with cost figures. But despite concerns over the pace of work on stormwater projects, Martin presented two slides showing projects that were completed before and after 2011, the date that the city began collecting a stormwater fee.
Commissioners questioned some of the projects on the list. Poynter referenced a project (C-10) that called for spending $1.7M to fix a stormwater drainage problem on First Avenue between Sadler and Simmons Roads. He said that he walks the street every morning and has not seen drainage problems. City Utilities Department Director John Mandrick agreed that the data for many of the projects on the CIP list was probably outdated. But, he asked commissioners, “What’s your definition of recovery? Do you want never to see a puddle on the road, or are you satisfied if the stormwater subsides in 24 hours? What’s your threshold?”
Commissioner Len Kreger, who has been an outspoken advocate for prioritizing and fixing stormwater problems throughout the city, said, “If what is contained on the CIP list today is wrong, let’s fix it. I just want to move forward.”
Martin said that the city is currently operating with an out-of-date plan. “We need to determine how to spend the money wisely to fix stormwater drainage problems,” he said, adding that the city has not added a single staff member to work on stormwater projects. He said, “At this time, we don’t even have a good starting point to fix the stormwater problems.” To remedy that, he presented commissioners with the list of recommendations below:
Kreger said that the city manager’s recommendations constituted an excellent plan. He reminded commissioners that the Florida Legislature was considering awarding the city $900K to fix stormwater problems in the North Beach area, and that the city needed to have a shovel ready plan to spend it, should the money be awarded.
Poynter also supported Martin’s plan, citing his discomfort with setting stormwater fees without sufficient, current data to back up cost estimates. Martin replied that the two most important reasons for addressing stormwater issues were public safety and cost. He advised commissioners that stormwater itself is relatively clean, but if it infiltrates the city’s water treatment facilities, it costs the city considerably more money to treat it.
In response to commissioner questions, Martin and Mandrick explained that the stormwater drainage associated with new development is not a problem. That issue is covered as part of the development permitting process. The major problem in the North Beach area was created in the 1960’s, when development of two subdivisions was stopped before the sewer systems were completed. Subsequent development took place that created the current problems.
With the consensus of the Fernandina Beach City Commissioners, the city will move forward to craft and issue an RFP for engineering services to identify and cost out current stormwater projects.
Mayor Johnny Miller thanked the participants for a productive discussion and led a round of congratulatory remarks directed toward Community Development Director Adrienne Burke, who will be leaving the city to assume a new position in April. Commissioners thanked her for her service to the city and wished her well in her new position.
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.
“He reminded commissioners that the Florida Legislature was considering awarding the city $900K to fix stormwater problems in the North Beach area, and that the city needed to have a shovel ready plan to spend it, should the money be awarded.” That’s if Republican Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t veto the appropriation like he did last year. Scott seems to get great pleasure in sticking it to Sen. Aaron Bean and Nassau County. But since Nassau county overwhelmingly voted for Gov. Scott I guess you get the government you vote for.