Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 7, 2018 6:05 p.m.
Once again, audience members plied the Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) with questions and complaints regarding the marina repairs. Once again, commissioners and the city manager supplied answers consistent with previous answers to the same questions asked at previous meetings. Questioners did not like the answers they received at the June 5, 2018 FBCC meeting any better than those they received at two previous meetings; city officials did not like repeating themselves and bristled at claims that they were withholding information from the public.
The video below will alow you to view the entire marina discussion. (Of note, Commissioner Ross’ chronology of marina repair issues begins at 22 minutes into the video.)
Commissioner Chip Ross, in a last ditch effort to put to bed rumors and false statements circulating through the community and on Facebook, recapped the entire process beginning with application for FEMA funds to make Hurricane Matthew related repairs to the city marina through to problems in obtaining repair permits from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) and concerns of the Coast Guard.
City Manager Dale Martin explained that there must be two requests for permits to the Army Corps of Engineers, based upon advice of that body. The first request – to repair the south attenuator — is pending in a 408 process, the ACE equivalent of a request for a variance. Based upon current agency guidance, a structure within 100 feet of a navigation channel cannot be repaired or replaced. Even though ACE did initially permit the attenuator in the 1980’s at 70 feet from the channel, current guidance overrides that approval. Hence, the need for the 408 process which is being closely monitored by Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio as well as Representative John Rutherford.
The second 408 process is required to repair the existing northern section of the attenuator, which contains the fueling and pump out operations. While the city initially proceeded to repair these facilities, their knuckles were rapped because that portion of the dock is even closer to the navigation channel. Currently, this process is literally dead in the water. The permit has not yet been requested, upon advice from ACE, which appears to believe it would slow the first 408 process to repair the southern attenuator.
In anticipation of approval for the first 408 process permit, the city has gone out seeking bids to design and build the new/replacement southern attenuator. The city is also actively seeking bids for money to make the repairs, which will be 75 percent reimbursed by FEMA and 12 percent reimbursed by the state.
Once the permit is received, repair work will begin almost immediately. At the same time the attenuator is being tended to with FEMA money ultimately, the city will also redesign the south basin docks, replacing the perpendicular docks with one long dock parallel to the attenuator. The south basin will be dredged to a depth of 8 feet, once the existing boaters are temporarily relocated to the attenuator and the old perpendicular docks and pilings are removed.
Item 7.4 on the June 5 FBCC agenda, which directed the city manager to proceed with repairs to the fuel dock and pump out operation, was pulled from the agenda because City Attorney Tammi Bach said that doing such work without the required permits would be illegal.
Many of the marina tenants and supporters were made even more unhappy when they heard a commissioner say during a local podcast that the initial request to FEMA for assistance had “sat on a desk” for over a year before moving forward. The request sat on a desk, but not in the city. It was held up by FEMA inaction at the state level.
Charter boat operators complained about excess siltation, which has built up over the past two years, meaning that many of them cannot move their boats at low tide. Others complained about loss of revenue stemming from lack of fuel and pump out services.
The best the city could respond was that assuming issuance of the first permit, work will begin immediately to fix the attenuator and dredge the south basin. That work could be completed by the end of the year at the earliest. With respect to the entire project, the anticipated completion is late spring 2019.
The city has done everything it legally can to move forward. Those who are unhappy with the pace of ACE permitting were advised to contact Representative John Rutherford’s office and the offices of Senator Bill Nelson and Senator Marco Rubio to seek additional pressure to dislodge the 408 permitting process from the Army Corps of Engineers.
And just a reminder: a new hurricane season has begun.
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.