By Mike Phillips
Ocean Highway and Port Authority commissioners still don’t have a well-defined plan for dealing with three residential parcels the port owns but – because they are outside the port boundary – can never be part of the port operation.
One issue is a gold-plated rule of financial management, which is you should never sell a capital asset to pay your bills. Rather, you should use it to acquire another, more needed, asset that can generate revenue. Those parcels are considered to be capital assets and are worth at least $2 million.
Another issue is whether the parcels should be heavily planted to serve as buffers for truck, train and other port noise.
But commission chair Danny Fullwood put a toe in that water at the Wednesday OHPA meeting by moving that one of the parcels – at 332 North Third St. – be put up for sale and that the proceeds be put in a special capital fund and not used for operation costs. If an urgent capital need or opportunity comes up, he said, there should be money in reserve to deal with it.
The motion was approved, but not before Commissioner Ray Nelson made an impassioned plea for some of the proceeds be used to repair Warehouse 1, which has been shoddily patched and gets wet floors on rainy days, creating unsafe surfaces for forklift operation.
Fullwood and others reminded Nelson that maintenance, by contract, is the responsibility of the port operator, not the commission. Nelson reminded them that he has been raising this issue for months and nothing has been done about it.
The new operator executive, Greg Haehl, said quotes for maintenance work are on file but might need to be updated..
Another construction issue, expansion of the Customs House for new equipment that the U.S. Customs Services is eager to install, got a modest boost by a grant to do design work. The current rental contract with Customs expires in April, and the agency has said it might have to move its operation to Jacksonville if nothing is done about the issue. Commissioner Fullwood said he hopes that demonstrated progress might win a one-year extension on the rental agreement.
If the port were to lose on-site Customs service, that would be a severe financial blow because foreign cargos would no longer be able to call on the Port of Fernandina.