Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 18, 2015 7:00 p.m.

 

resetYou can’t shake hands with a clenched fist. Yet that appears exactly to characterize today’s relationship between the Ocean Highway and Port Authority and the residents of Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island. Can we restore a productive, or at least a neutral relationship, between the Port and the City? Or will it take yet another costly lawsuit to determine which, if any party, benefits from the current adversarial relationship?

For as long as I’ve resided in the city, the Port has been a sleeping giant. Those of us familiar with the charter that established the Port Authority have always known that the elected body possessed tremendous powers that for the most part, were kept at bay by port commissioners who understood that the postage stamp-sized Port of Fernandina had been plunked into an established small city where a historic residential district and wetlands limited expansion.

The relationship between the city and the port has not been all flowers and light by any means. Port neighbors have groused about noise and truck traffic, sometimes more loudly than others. Conspiracy theories have surfaced over the years regarding plans to expand the port into the historic district and/or to transform residential areas into port parking lots. These complaints have sometimes risen to the level of action, and sometimes not. But for the most part, those of us who live in the North Side Historic District have learned to live with the port, even though our neighbor often tries our patience.

If not peace, there was at least a truce in place until summer of 2014, when a hot conflict erupted over what was termed a Draft Master Plan for the future of the Port of Fernandina. This document and the ensuing controversies over its contents have been well covered in the Fernandina Observer over the last six plus months. The problems with the plan, from the point of view of local citizens, have been aired during multiple meetings of the City’s Planning Advisory Board and its subcommittee, the City Commission, the Port Authority, and a joint City-Port Authority meeting. The upshot of all the meetings has apparently been a Port Authority decision to reassert its powers and rights under its charter and send a clear message to local residents, “If you don’t like it, lump it.”

How did things reach this point? And more importantly, why did they need to do so? Can the testosterone-laden atmosphere be cleansed so that reasonable people can meet and discuss solutions to problems in a business-like setting? Or are we doomed to view the Port-City conflict as yet another Super Bowl clash of titans, where one side must lose for the other side to win, while the lawyers race one another to the bank to deposit their hefty fees?

PrintAlthough I am not happy with the manner in which the Port Authority has handled this issue so far, I will not engage in the personal attacks and trash talking that has allegedly dominated social media regarding individual commissioners. Port Commissioners are elected to do a job, and like other elected officials, face daily problems involving conflicting interests, budgets and changing to meet future needs. Several years ago the Port Authority was condemned for tearing down two derelict houses in the historic district with intent to transform the land into parking lots. As the person charged to investigate this matter, I learned that the port purchased the lots in question above board and sought demolition permits from the city. The city, without determining whether or not the properties were in the historic district, granted the permits and the houses were demolished. This was not the fault of the Port Authority, but that of the city. To show good faith and demonstrate that they had not tried to pull a fast one, the port contributed $5,000 to a new city fund: the Historic District Trust Fund. Robert Mearns, city manager at the time, matched the contribution. The Port’s actions, in this case, were not meant to show hostility toward the city or its historic district residents.

But fast-forward to 2014 and a set of different port commissioners facing difficult business challenges for survival of the port in a new era. Conciliation and co-existence seem to have been replaced by confrontation and conflict. Is it any wonder that local residents are up in arms over language in a so-called master plan that allows for potential intensification of industrialization in that pocket port, increased handling of hazardous materials, more truck traffic and even possibly a bridge to Georgia?

While many port commissioners would express outrage at what they term as a lack of respect from our island community that has been directed at them personally and professionally over this plan, I wish they would try for a moment to see the situation from the people’s perspective. Respect is a two-way street, and the Port Authority’s failure to identify residents as a stakeholder in the new plan was the first sign of disrespect for those of us who live here.

Once problems surfaced, the Port Authority could have apologized and reopened the plan for public discussion. But their answer was this: All our meetings were open to the public and no one came. Never mind that the plan was prepared by a consultant who seemed to be able to meet with other stakeholders outside the framework of a Port Authority meeting. Or that the Port Authority meetings are held in Yulee and that the Port’s website is not exactly a treasure trove of information to help citizens understand what is transpiring.

Then followed discussions on the plan itself, which citizens were told, was not really a plan, but a research document. Both Port Commissioners and the consultant who compiled the non-plan readily acknowledged that certain activities enumerated in the document would not, could not be conducted at our port. But for unfathomable reasons, even when the port commissioners agreed with the people, they refused to remove the elements from the non-plan, although they did footnote some graphics.

During the course of these tense, frustrating meetings other concerns arose about erroneously calculated traffic levels, shipping of coal and petroleum products into a port that had been squeezed into a residential area, and the potential for creating a port for a cruise ship under the authority of the Port of Fernandina. Two local citizens, exercising their right to propose amendments to the city’s land development code, made application to limit shipping storage and handling of certain hazardous materials, citing danger to the surrounding neighborhood. They also requested that the city restrict cruise ship traffic to ships handling no more than 250 passengers.

This appeared to be the final straw for the Port Authority. Withdrawing any real or perceived olive branches previously dangled to invite compromise, the Port Authority apparently decided that the best defense is a robust offense. No more nice guy. Take the velvet glove off the iron fist and let the people of Fernandina Beach understand whom they are dealing with.

So the Commissioners sent in Clyde Davis, their board attorney, to let the island boys and girls know that you don’t mess around with a government authority that has the power to take your homes by eminent domain and turn your neighborhood into a coal yard, if it so chooses. The message, which came across loud and clear, was of a patronizing nature: “Not that we plan to do this of course, but we have every power and right to do so.” I think it is safe to say that Dale Carnegie would not have endorsed this course of action.

Now the Port Authority has seriously aggravated an already upset community. The conspiracy buffs are having a heyday, the recently discovered election irregularities are being cited as further examples of the Port Authority’s duplicity, and some politicians, who just delight in poking hornets’ nests, are even suggesting that opponents to the port’s non-plan are wealthy elitists who want to shut down the port and throw working stiffs out on the streets. Really? Really? Can we all just take a breath and return to a world of rational thought?

While it seemed that the parties had independently decided to do just that, word has now surfaced that other than the legal poker game underway between the port’s and the city’s attorneys, at least one Port Commissioner is meeting with many key players to promote the building of a cruise ship terminal that would serve ships that carry not 250 but 2500 passengers at the site of the old pogey plant.

You may recall that several years ago there was a major uproar over plans to build a marine dry-dock at that site. The land in question is not located in the city, but remains in Nassau County, meaning that other than roads, the city would have little say over the building of such a facility. Ships would dock in an aquatic preserve, from which passengers would presumably be bused back and forth to the facility from more remote parking areas. Any of you who have ever visited those quaint little Caribbean Islands know how large cruise ships affect the quality of island life.

The question remains for all of us: do we, the citizens and taxpayers, have any say in rejecting or modifying port plans? It would seem from the Port’s perspective we do not. And in the final analysis, it boils down to which argument prevails: quality of life and property values for the residents or business growth for the port.

It remains my hope that we can reason with the Port Authority on its non-plan and work together to promote common, or at least, non-conflict laden goals. Each side needs to understand the concerns of the other to develop a productive working relationship. Elected officials who strut like Mick Jagger or threaten like the Godfather do incredible damage not only to their own standing among the electorate but to the very institutions they represent.

Let’s send someone down to Staples to buy one of those RESET buttons and begin anew. If all of us can check our egos at the door, dial down the testosterone, and stop demonizing people with differing points of view, maybe we can make progress.

And if not, at least we can say we tried before we turn it over to the lawyers.

A bend in the road is not the end of the road… unless you fail to make the turn.

 

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’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_28931)
7 years ago

Perhaps the Federal government should also have a say as a major stakeholder, given Kings Bay and the absolute importance to national security of having an unblocked (and unblockable) deep water channel – direct to the open ocean.

Robert Weintraub
Robert Weintraub(@rukbat23gmail-com)
7 years ago

Port commissioners are elected; unelect them. And it’s not just male hormones at work here, Susan.

Robert Riegler
Robert Riegler (@guest_29036)
7 years ago

So an economic development idea from the 1980’s how many years later results in <60 jobs but now threatens a viable economic engine(Amelia Island tourism–not just the downtown folks….the whole island). It needs no finger pointing people. Kinder Morgan……Look to their port operations in whatever city you choose……Would you like to live let alone vacation next to that?
The world has changed, Amelia Island has changed. I would like to think for the better. I wrote in months ago and weighed in on coal importing and use of the port property. It is a jewel in the rough. Look to the River Walk in Savannah. Look to the Port Downtowns up and down the East Coast which have grown from industrial use. Mixed use of the property commercial, retail, residential. What is required here is some "outside" the box thinking vs. puffing.

Respect is earned.

Respectfully Submitted.

Vince Cavallo
Vince Cavallo(@grandvin)
7 years ago

Between the port development and the airport development programs on a path toward turning our tranquil island into the east coast rendition of Long Beach Ca, all that is needed is for someone to propose a refinery be constructed say on the Ft Clinch. After all, airplanes need fuel and so do cruise ships so why bother to truck or rail it in, just pipe it over from the refinery.

A cruise ship port here is beyond folly. There are already many others along the coast in far more accessible areas. Could one be built? Sure it could. Would it be financially sustaining? Probably not due to logistics IMO. Would it turn the island into a congestion nightmare? Just look at the Shave Bridge and consider those two east and west bound lanes backed up to either Route 17 or to Sadler Road 2 to 3 times a week not only with arriving and departing passengers but with the restocking of supplies for each of these ships.

Perhaps our current rendition of robber barons have no sense for esthetics or serenity as they seem blinded by the concept that economic development is the most important goal to achieve. Perhaps these “barons” have run out of third world nations they can plunder so they now turn their attention to those domestic areas far away from where they reside content in the notion all development is good in some other’s backyard.

Brian Seuter
Brian Seuter (@guest_29041)
7 years ago

Are cruise passengers tourists? Or are they the wrong kind of tourists for our embraced tourist based local economy? If the town markets itself correctly it would be tremendous boon to our local businesses. You think Cafe Karibo, charter boat captains and the Bed and Breakfasts might benefit from people coming a day early or staying a day later to/from cruise????? I have heard people saying this and that cargo would be bad because we want more tourists but we only want a few and they have to be the right kind. Is there a split of rational thought here? People that like golf, fancy cars and football are good while those that like cruises are bad. Ok, hornet’s nest kicked.

William Davis
William Davis (@guest_29155)
7 years ago
Reply to  Brian Seuter

careful Captain, you kick too hard the censure your comments censor your arguements, God forbid they hear any other arguments but their own

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_29069)
7 years ago

The crux of Amelia Islands problem with the Port of Fernandina and it’s Master Plan Is #1 The firm that was contracted to pen it, used a cookie cutter approach. Didn’t matter, Tampa, Jacksonville,Etc. all the same. #2 Our Community, our people are not viewed as stakeholders, no input. #3 Kinder Morgan does not manage Ports. They own Fossil Fuel Terminals (180 plus ) and over 80,000 miles of 26″ pipeline to move petroleum products, Natural gas and chemicals. They are only in the business of moving this crap from point A to point B. The Petroleum Industry and Natural Gas Industry want to move as much product off shore, as possible as fast as possible. They are literally gutting our county and shipping it overseas as fast as possible. Kinder Morgan is Making huge profits. This Town would make Nothing.#4 The Nassau County Port Authority and it’s Commissioners are in the pockets of Kinder Morgan for Millions of Dollars.( outstanding loans of 18 to 20 Million dollars) Commissioner Bruce and Clyde Davis their Propaganda Minister are trying to sell this whole mess to our Island. We need The help of our Elected Officials to Save our Island’s way of life and they have “Turned a deaf ear” to us. ( Ms. Adkins and Mr. Bean) Before these people destroy our Islands environment and our economy they must be stopped. We have to Organize and sent a strong message. be proactive not reactive.

William Davis
William Davis (@guest_29181)
7 years ago
Reply to  Steve Crounse

Mr Crounse, you speak of which you know not, I can say my experiance people like you, its not about the argument its about the fight, and if it were not this cause it would be another. but if this cause is truly near and dear to your heart, it would be suggested you remain in the back drop and let others more tactful tale forefront. what you lack is legitimacy, and what you risk is marginalization of broader support.

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon (@guest_29313)
7 years ago
Reply to  William Davis

Mr. Davis, its tough to write in a more condescinding and self-righteous way. Wow!

william davis
william davis (@guest_29317)
7 years ago
Reply to  Medardo Monzon

more self rightous then who ?

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_29129)
7 years ago

Ander Crenshaw – Doesn’t the Navy have a substantial interest in any outcome here to ensure that King’s Bay can perform it’s strategic mission?

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_29142)
7 years ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

Robert, Kings Bay my just be the solution to all this madness at the Port. I would think the Federal Gov’t. and the Dept, of Defense would trump any Nassau County Ocean Highway and Port Authority pipe dreams of grandeur. It boggles ones mind to think, that these Commissioners and their attorney have the capability to destroy our environment, economy and our way of life. For what? So the profits can be deposited in Richard Kinders bank account in Houston Texas. Mr. Weintraub, has written in the News Leader of organizing to control are local political process, which I think is a must do. As he, I remember Al D’Amato and his political thugs in New York politics. New York is still living with it. but I digress. I’ve talked with both Beans office and Adkins office. Both say yes they are watching the goings on at the Port and they are” concerned”. So far it’s only” political speek” No public pronouncements. The quiet is deafening.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_29143)
7 years ago

I have e-mailed Ander Crenshaw’s office and requested that Navy review the issue.

Mrs. D Hunter
Mrs. D Hunter (@guest_29146)
7 years ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

Those of us holding Facebook accounts may post concerns of this or any other nature directly to his “open” wall/timeline:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Congressman-Ander-Crenshaw/200388204657

Mrs. D Hunter
Mrs. D Hunter (@guest_29147)
7 years ago
Reply to  Mrs. D Hunter

Speaking of Facebook and, in addition to Ander’s “open” wall for airing constituent concerns, we also have local Facebook Groups dedicated to tracking the positions taken by the Port, this one for example:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/PortAlert/

william davis
william davis (@guest_29318)
7 years ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

the shipping traffic is well controlled and monitored by the navy and uscg there is no issue, Hampton Roads is one of the largest commerical ports in the country, cargo vessels transit in far closer proxmimity to Norfolk or Portsmouth naval station then ships calling Fernandina do

ralph w. beaty jr
ralph w. beaty jr(@mysticpoet4uyahoo-com)
7 years ago

before going through all of these items think of our natural island and its environment, with all of the talk of coal and such can we contain the purity of our island. will Container and Rayonier use the coal . what of their pollution . will it grow worst or shall it help lower the pollution ? what of the added traffic . can it be routed so as not congestion clogging our streets . how will the coal be moved by trucks or trains and how will it go from the port. with the added trucks what of their pollution and the . what of storage area’s and its drainage . what impact will that have . yes the money’s sound very good but at what cost ? how will this bother our tourist trade .what effect of the channel that will be needed and we must think of the Naval station in St. Mary’s what impact will that have .? i can understand the confusion as all of these things are considered . i vote yes for the money it would bring but again i vote no for all of the main roads being filled night and day with semi’s and or dump trucks.. the noises of the machinery and trucks running full time which it would end up doing for the money to roll in as they wish. now will our streets need to be improved to handle all of this heavy weighted trucks .. what routes will they need to take so the islanders can still get around safely. i guess i am just as stuck on these issues as you seem to be . lets have the military and the national dept of transportation and our island and city council all meet in one room and sit together so it can be handled in one sitting and not drag out for ten years. it may take two meetings about six months apart to gather the information. the second all should have everything in order to meet and work out the end result.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_29227)
7 years ago

Mr. Davis, Your right on one point. I am passionate about the issues at the Port of Fernandina. If the Port Commissioners want our Port to be viable economically, and contribute to the uniqueness of Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island, I’m all for it. I’d love to see The Port of Fernandina get back on a firm financial footing. But not as a fossil fuel Terminal. I’ve seen what big energy companies have done with the assistance of Kinder Morgans pipe lines to the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania, in a matter of five years. They have devastated farm lands, corrupted aquifers, destroyed the quality of life for thousands of folks. Been able to come into Townships via legal systems, After the elected officials have placed a moratorium to stop gas drilling via hydrofraking. Seneca Lake, at Watkins Glen has salt mines that gas producers are using for Natural gas storage. These salt mines have fissures in the domes that could cause collapse of the storage areas. I am concerned this Town could suffer as Pennsylvania and the finger lake region of New York. We don’t need this danger on this Island. You say “I speak of which you know not” Please enlighten me. Yes, I’ve fought for many causes, I’ve fought in Korea and Viet Nam. I’ve fought for civil rights. I’ve fought for better schools for our kids. for better water and air quality. I’ll continue to fight to stop a Toxic Fossil Fuel Terminal in Fernandina Beach. You should also.

William Davis
William Davis (@guest_29234)
7 years ago
Reply to  Steve Crounse

Steve, the 60’s are over, walk in’s, sit in’s, marches on the capital are no longer the effective method, so you can pound all the podiums and use the sharpest of tounges, it simply does not work. you have to be political in a political matter these days. your obsession with evil corporate empires simply is too outspoken, you marginalize the base, you loose support for your cause. does not matter the cause, look at open carry gun legislation in texas, despite a civil and pro-gun populace, a new governor and house ready to pass the bill first session, yet open carry protestors continued their social media attacks, continued irresponsible protests carrying long guns around in inappropriate places, and they marginalized the base, the legislature backed off. now you may not like being compared to a gun nut, but the effect is the same. so next time local officials dont give you the time of day, or every day citizens are not onboard with your cause, maybe you should take a step back and ask yourself why that is ? hey self awareness is a tough pill to swallow, consider this some friendly advice so,e of your allies on this movement have not done your the service of offering. your a smart guy, think about what i am saying.

William Davis
William Davis (@guest_29236)
7 years ago

any looked at other port cities, like Baltimore, Savannah, Charleston or New Orleans, seems an active port area only grows an economy, and the two can coexist, some of the most expensive realestate in these port cities is former indistrial sites still adjacent active industrial sites, yes people still buy 300$k condos in old factories

Fernandina is a port, it was always a port, and thats what gives it its history, charm, as well as bohemian culture, strip the port, you strip the culture from Fernandina

can promise you, tourists are amazed to see an active port site, there are 100,s of school kids every summer that pass the ocean vessels while on the cumberland ferry or see them on the horizon from the marina downtown and are left with visions of adventure or thoughts of far away places, or inspired to become engineers

the port is only an assest to tourism and culture of the island

erase the port and erase Fernandinas legacy, find very irresponsible of those who settled her for retirement from northern areas to take such great efforts to strip a community of its identity and economic opportunity for the future

the debate on the master plan is so far misunderstood its not worth speaking of anymore, but can say one thing, fossil fuels are the life blood of our society, every product in your home, your car, your iphone, the packing of your food, even organic items from a health store, are made either directly or indirectly from a down stream fossil fuel, millions of tons of oils, gases, coals, or petcokes are handled every year safely and with minmal enviromental impact, could a spill happen, sure, could you get hit by a car walking across the street, probally more likely…

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_29262)
7 years ago
Reply to  William Davis

Mr Davis, Talk to the Folks in the southern tier of New York state about the merits of Sit ins, Walk ins, grass roots movements.as they pertain to Natural Gas Hydro fracking. If your not aware,there will be No frack drilling in New Your State for the foreseeable future. If your also not aware. The Petroleum Industries plan was to drill (60,000) hyrofracked wells in a five county area. which would corrupt hundreds of millions of gallons of fresh water. then dispose of the tainted, water by pumping it into old wells, salt mines,etc. The revolt to these actions were started by a professor at Cornell university. This still works Mr Davis. Your discussion about Ports in in Baltimore, Savannah, Charleston etc. does not hold water. We have a postage stamp size facility in the Historic District of our town. All the Ports you list are massive, separate from the communities they serve. Ps please use spell check, you posts would be much easier to read.

William Davis
William Davis (@guest_29322)
7 years ago
Reply to  Steve Crounse

ok got me there, new york in particular cornell is a liberal stronghold, i can see that working there, your in the south my friend, when in rome….

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon (@guest_29311)
7 years ago
Reply to  William Davis

Mr. Davis, you try to quiet dissent by pretending to be knowledgable while having no demostrated expertise in the field of fossil fuels. Your facts about the petrochemical industry are flawed. I worked for decades in the industry and would welcome a public debate with you on these matters

william davis
william davis (@guest_29320)
7 years ago
Reply to  Medardo Monzon

enlighten me on what products in your every day life are not dervived from, is ethylene not a distillate of oil cracking ? is ethylene not the core ingredient in most plastics ? is there not gas in your car, oil in your lawn mower, what sourced generated the electricity in your home ?

Medardo Monzon
Medardo Monzon (@guest_29341)
7 years ago
Reply to  william davis

Enlighten me… How did you become an expert in the petrochemical industry? What are your credentials?

William Davis
William Davis (@guest_29449)
7 years ago
Reply to  Medardo Monzon

market research and study

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_29255)
7 years ago

Big money trumps national security…… Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security and Coast Guard need to take more of a precise position, also – before, rather than after the fact….

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_security

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Submarine_Base_Kings_Bay

William Davis
William Davis (@guest_29325)
7 years ago
Reply to  Robert Warner

trust me, if DHS placed as much emphasis on land borders as they do sea ports, the war on drugs would be over and there would be no immigration debate

google coast guard commons, lots of litature on how secure it really is, foreign sailors are treated as potential criminal suspects, every single sailor is vetted by joint agencies, sailors with no visa require armed guards at the ship owners expense

William Davis
William Davis (@guest_29326)
7 years ago
Reply to  William Davis

in fact was bill clinton not just in mexico applogizing for doing too good of a job on air and sea security ?

William Davis
William Davis (@guest_29450)
7 years ago

thank you all for the enganging debate, Mrs Thamm called to hit the reset button, I hope you can do that moving forward

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