By Adam Kaufman
July 16, 2019 6:10 a.m.
At 8:20 pm, Monday evening, after approximately 7 ½ hours of testimony on behalf of Petitioners, the Amelia Tree Conservancy (ATC) and the Sierra Club (Sierra), and 80 minutes of “public testimony,” Judge E. Gary Early concluded the first day of proceedings concerning Amelia Bluff.
The hearing resumes Tuesday. The Petitioners will continue their challenge as to whether the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) Amendment to the City’s Comprehensive Plan, changing the designation to Low Density Residential from Conservation at the Amelia Bluff site, is in compliance with Florida Statute.
Julie Ferreira, Sierra Club, Nassau; Sean E. McGlynn, Ph.D., an expert in eco-system management and water quality; Arthur Herman, a former horticulturist at New York’s Bronx Botanical Gardens and Director of Landscape Maintenance at Fordham University’s Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses; Robert D. Prager, a Civil Engineer, Value Engineer, Water Resources Engineer, and an expert in geomorphology; and Munsell McPhillips, Ph.D., an expert in eco-system restoration and geomorphology, all testified as to their assessment of the environmental degradation that would take place if the Amelia Bluff project was allowed to continue.
With varying degrees of emphasis, the Petitioners’ witnesses testified as to their evaluation of the Amelia Bluff project’s impact, if implemented, on water quality, stormwater management, wetlands, wildlife habitat, soils, native vegetation, and the Maritime Forest, with particular weight given to the project’s potential effect on the Egans Creek Greenway.
Ms. Ferreira’s testimony included a video presentation resulting from a drone flyover of the 6.4 acre Amelia Bluff site, the Egans Creek Greenway and the Fort Clinch State Park Aquatic Preserve. The video provided orientation and a visual context for her testimony and the testimony that followed.
Prager was the only witness who advanced a theory as to why the prior designation on the FLUM of the parcel that includes the 6.4 acre Amelia Bluff site as “Conservation” was not in error. Prager admitted, on cross examination, that he had not reviewed contemporaneous documents with regard to the adoption of the Conservation designation, but that his hypothesis was based upon his expertise. Prager’s testimony on this issue was challenged as speculative and conjecture.
During the public comment period, 22 individuals came forward to ask Judge Gray to prevent the development project at Amelia Bluff from being completed and to undo the actions of the Fernandina Beach City Commission. Virtually all had previously testified at City Commission meetings at which the FLUM Amendment to the City’s Comprehensive Plan was considered. They include Margaret Kirkland, Ron Sapp, Robert Weintraub, Chuck Oliva, Joanne Bean, and Diana Herman. The testimony given during the public comment session will be made part of the record of the proceeding.
At the opening of the Hearing, Judge Gray denied Conserve Amelia Now’s (CAN’s) motion to reconsider his decision to dismiss CAN from the proceeding for lack of standing.
Robert Weintraub was allowed to testify for the limit purpose of identifying photographs he took during a June site visit to Amelia Bluff.
Editor’s Note: Adam Kaufman, has been General Counsel, labor negotiator, and lobbyist for the Rochester City School; he was appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo as Counsel, Associate Director and First Deputy Attorney General to a New York State Special Commission; he served as an Administrative Law Judge, mediator and Regional Director of the New York State Public Employment Relations Board; now retired, for the last 13 years he was a labor arbitrator and mediator. A graduate of the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, he is a city resident.