Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 5, 2014 91:00 a.m.

Lynn Williams
Lynn Williams

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.”

Commissioner Johnny Miller
Commissioner Johnny Miller

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.”

Mayor Ed Boner
Mayor Ed Boner

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.

Suanne ThammEditor’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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John Campbell Elwell
John Campbell Elwell(@elwelljohnyahoo-com)
8 years ago

Thank you Mr. Mayor for bringing up the business concept of financial accountability. It sounds to me that the taxpayer’s $8000 is gone and their is no fiscal responsibility required for expenditures by the majority if this City Commission. Thank goodness that two of these Commissioners are up for re election this Fall.

Joe Palmer
Joe Palmer (@guest_19615)
8 years ago

I’m not so certain the silting of Fernandina Harbor Marina can be laid entirely at the feet of inadequate current in the marina. I used to have my sailboat at a marina on Egan’s Creek. The tidal current there is very strong, as anyone familiar with the creek knows. And yet, that marina has sedimentation woes also. The Fernandina Harbor problem is likely a combination of issues with inadequate current being just one.

Bruno Preuss
Bruno Preuss (@guest_19618)
8 years ago

Can anyone come before the FBCC and ask for 8,000 Dollars of the taxpayers’ money and get to keep it without further accounting?

John Schroeder
John Schroeder (@guest_19619)
8 years ago

As defiant as Mr. Williams was before the City Commission concerning the expenditure of the $8,000, what makes anyone think he will respond to a phone inquiry from a concerned citizen of Fernandina Beach. The mayor is right on target. Accountability is the key in any such future endeavors.

Clinch Kavanaugh
Clinch Kavanaugh (@guest_19623)
8 years ago

How do I get some of this notion money? I have lots of notions. For $8,00 I will gladly share them with the City Commission. Do I have to get a permit from the planing department for a notion or is this more like a chicken?
We get the government we deserve.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_19636)
8 years ago

I was somewhat taken back at Lynn’s response and his attitude conveyed in the article. I believe Lynn’s intentions are good in that he is looking for an alternative to the costly, but necessary, dredging and transporting of the spoils that continues to put the city marina further and further in debt. In order to provide the necessary turbidity testing he will have to have a working model. One would think that a proven water injection company like Van Ord would be willing to work the State DEP to “certify” their process as it would seem to be a great way to generate a lot of new business.

Clinch Kavanaugh
Clinch Kavanaugh (@guest_19637)
8 years ago
Reply to  Dave Lott

One would think you would go to Van Ord in the first place in as much they know what they are doing. But hey, that’s not the Fernandina way! The City Comission just hand’s out $$$ to there cronie friends.
Again, we get the goverment we deserve.

Genece minshew
Genece minshew (@guest_19653)
8 years ago

Thank you Mayor Boner for standing up for what is right. This money should have never been given out and now all you get is smart-mouthed indignation for doing your job! I can hardly wait for the upcoming elections so we can rid out city of these incompetent commissioners.

Richard Cain
Richard Cain (@guest_19755)
8 years ago

While I suppose the mayor should be applauded for showing some interest in financial accountability I think he had a hand in creating this specific problem in the first place. Whatever agreement/contract/grant prepared when giving this money to Mr. Williams should have clearly specified how and when (or if) he was to report on his expenditures. If this was some type of grant with no such provisions specified, the City really has no right to be asking about how he spent the money. Did this agreement/contract/grant even specify what end product he was to produce or a timetable on delivery? My guess is probably not. If you have a provision in your agreement that Mr. Williams is not following then by all means ask about it or enforce it. Cite what he was required to do and ask. If not, then don’t trot yourself as looking out for the taxpayer because the time for that was when he was given the money.

Andrew Curtin
Andrew Curtin(@bkdriverajcgmail-com)
8 years ago

Mr.Cain is right.Enforce whatever the terms were.If mistakes were made,learn from them.
However,given the high cost of conventional dredging,I think a little patience would be in order while Mr.Williams works,voluntarily,through the bureaucratic requirements that have arisen during this experiment.
BTW,if anyone has any evidence of cronyism,bring it forward or quit with the innuendos.
Andrew J. Curtin

Andrew Curtin
Andrew Curtin(@bkdriverajcgmail-com)
8 years ago

Well,well,well.The June 17th C/C meeting is over and we have learned:
-Mr.Williams has accounted for the expenses-@$3400
-He has the permit for the test
-The test has a high probability of success
-The technology of WID is proven and ,if approved,stands to dramatically reduce
periodic dredging costs.
So,those of you so intent on throwing stones at Mr.Williams and the C/C can now
take a minute and wipe the egg from your faces
BTW,no,Mr Kavanaugh there’s no more free money at City Hall.

Andrwe J.Curtin

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