By Wes Wolfe
May 27, 2022
A Commissioner objected to OHPA’s lack of information.
As cargo backs up and fills existing warehouses, Fernandina Port officials looked around for a solution and decided to go with a new warehouse, but this one’s made of fabric — cloth sides and roof with a metal skeleton.
Only one bid came in on the Port’s request, and the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) decided to accept it. Coast to Coast Contracting will install the structure, which comes from Big Top Manufacturing. They’ve worked together on projects at the Port and a number of other places around Northeast Florida.
However, the Port doesn’t operate in the most transparent manner, something that’s been of continual concern to Commissioners.
“We don’t have any information about our warehousing fees and rates or the current utilization of our warehouses at this Board level,” Commissioner Miriam Hill said.
“I know that information may be available to (Nassau Terminals CEO Chris) Ragucci, but it’s not available to us, so it’s hard for me to make a decision about whether or not we can validate taking such a large portion of our surface area for the Port and devoting it to break-bulk storage, specifically.”
Break-bulk shipping involves goods that don’t fit in standard containers or bins.
The warehouse will consist of two structures, each 100 feet long by 250 feet wide by 35 feet high, and both have two 25-foot roll-up doors. Total square footage comes to 50,000, and the total price for the work is more than $1.3 million, but it doesn’t include everything. Other costs could include design fees, abatement, geotechnical or other testing, underground utility location and any work before 7 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
“What’s the point of us voting on it if we don’t have information to base that vote on?” Hill said.
Commissioner Carrol Franklin said the Port needs more warehouse space for lumber and plywood, and the new structures will be big enough to house containers.
“The place to put them in is really a dead spot,” Franklin said. “We use it for overflow.”
Ragucci said it was his understanding the majority of the Board backed the fabric warehouse idea and wanted to seek bids.
“It’s a temporary structure … which OHPA will own,” Ragucci said. “It is removable, storable, transportable to a different location, either in our Port or somewhere else. It can be sold. There is a market for these buildings to be sold, if business changes and it’s no longer needed.
“But it’s been clear to us in the four-and-a-half years we’re operating that break-bulk is the way it’s going, and our business is growing on the break-bulk side. This building has the flexibility to absorb any one of our forest products.”
There would still be outdoor space for containers and steel, which he said they’ve sought but haven’t been so successful in bringing to the Port. A plywood company from Singapore already has a two-year commitment to use the warehouse, should it go up, Ragucci added.
Commissioners voted 3-1 for the bid, with Hill voting “no” and Scott Hanna absent.