Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 5, 2014 91:00 a.m.
Two months ago, waterfront activist Lynn Williams addressed the Fernandina Beach City Commission on the status of the water injection dredging experiment he had proposed for the city marina. A year ago the FBCC had directed the city manager to authorize payment of $8,000 to Williams to conduct such a test to determine if his idea was feasible and could meet state and federal requirements. During public comment at the June 3, 2014 FBCC meeting, Williams provided the commission with an update. He said that at the earlier meeting he was hopeful that he would be “seeing a permit imminently from DEP [Department of Environmental Protection].” DEP notified the Corps of Engineers (COA) notice of intent to proceed. But several weeks later, according to Williams, the COA said, “Not so fast. We’d like to talk about public notice.”
Williams said, “Thats where it stands. Then got a letter from Fish and Wildlife [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] wondering about turbidity.” Turbidity relates to the amount of suspended solids in the water. “We will prevail,” Williams said, “but it is going to take a little time.” He provided commissioners with an abstract from a COA article on the history and expectations for water injection dredging in U.S. waterways by D.A. Wilson. Williams said, “The question still comes up as to what the hang up is. Now we have agreed that it is turbidity. We hope we will prevail. Our plea is if we can’t pass the turbidity test, then there is no point in going further with the Corps requirements. If we pass the test, then we will go ahead. I think we will get a good response on that.”
Williams called commissioners’ attention to a chart he had provided showing various water injection dredging projects conducted since 2005. He highlighted a project conducted in the Michoud Channel in 2002 which showed that 178,642 cubic yards had been dredged at a cost of 34 cents per yard, and another project the following year had removed 269,230 cubic yards at a cost of 28 cents per cubic yard. These Mississippi River dredging projects were conducted by Van Oord dredging and marine contractors with large water injection dredges. Williams compared these costs with the cost of dredging the city marina by conventional means at a cost of $35 per cubic yard. He said, “[Savings of] this order of magnitude will turn the [city] marina into a self supporting enterprise.”
Mr. Williams time was limited to 3 minutes. Following his presentation, Commissioner Johnny Miller asked about the turbidity issue. He asked if the material Williams proposed to dredge was just what has floated with the river or if he is proposing to relocate mud from the bottom to another location in the river. Williams confirmed that the only material to be moved was what was being deposited because of the lack of river current in the marina.
Mayor Ed Boner had a question for Williams. “I’ve had several people ask me how much money has been spent so far to construct the working model. Just some requests for basic accounting: how much has been spent, how much is left [of the $8,000]?”
“Well,” Williams chuckled, “the answer is I don’t know, I never intended to do this against a chart. If you want to put my time into it at 30 bucks an hour, it’s way over budget. If you want to take the bits and pieces that we bought, we’ve probably spent about half of it. It was never to be done as a quoted sort of a thing … this was something to do a test. If we had gone with the ATM proposal, a computer simulation prior to a test, that would have been $60K. What we are proposing is to see if we can meet the turbidity requirements.” Williams added that his model would not be a production dredge.
Boner pressed on. “If there is something you can do that will show some sort of accounting, that would be helpful. That’s the one question I’ve had.”
Williams replied, “Ask them to call me. In our proposal there was never any intention of trying to itemize or be specific on what this would cost. To this day, I don’t know what it will cost to see it to the end. … Commissioner Corbett said at the time [of the initial request for money] ‘You think you can do it for $4500 but you’ve asked for $8,000.‘ Yep, because I don’t know how it’s gonna work. We’ve got some flex in there. … If the COA wants some computer modeling once we get past the turbidity test, that’s about $30-50K, and I don’t know how to do that. I’ll come back to you because I can’t flip that amount of money out of my pocket. I just can’t do it. But we can make a good showing on turbidity problems. … You might want to learn about Richardson analysis and numbers …”
Boner interrupted. “I think we are over our one minute response.”
A seemingly frustrated Williams said, “Then don’t ask questions that take more than a minute to answer.”
Boner said, “I need to get more numbers.” Williams replied, “I’m not giving you more numbers. I don’t have them.”
Boner thanked Williams and turned to his fellow commissioners. “If we ever give any one money again, I want to make sure we have some sort of accounting. This is what it costs, this is what I’m not charging for … This is what people are asking … and I can’t tell them anything.”
Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican jumped in. “I think as Mr. Williams just pointed out. if anyone asks you, please pass along his phone number and he’d be happy to explain what’s going on. When I have a question, I call him and get it straight from the horse’s mouth.”
Boner was not backing down. “Well I want it in writing here,” he said.
Commissioner Charlie Corbett asked, “Are you asking us to do that or are you telling us?”
Boner replied, “I just asked Mr. Williams the information and he said he can’t give us anything.”
Corbett continued, “Then you’re telling us the next time we do this we can …”
Boner interrupted, saying, “No, I’m just strongly suggesting that we do that.”
Corbett replied, “That’s what I wanted to know.”
In March 2013, city commissioners Boner, Corbett, Gass, and Pelican approved Williams’ concept as a means of saving the city money in dredging the city marina. Only former commissioner Arlene Filkoff dissented. No documentation has ever come to light through repeated public records requests documenting details of the plan, timetable or costs.
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.