Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
January 3, 2018 9:33 a.m.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger kicked off the first Regular Meeting of the 2018 Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) on December 19, 2017 with a presentation illustrating the benefits as well as funding opportunities for the Downtown Shoreline Stabilization project.
Kreger reminded commissioners and audience members that in October the FBCC had unanimously approved going forward with a $970K request to the Florida Legislature for funds to address shoreline resiliency along the Amelia River. “This is a significant project,” Kreger said, “which will drive our waterfront development.” The funding request to the state requires a 50 percent local match.
The entire project covers roughly 1,000 feet of river shoreline. The initial phase covers a seawall of 270 linear feet in what is now Parking Lot B. The project will help the city deal with storm surge, waves, stormwater and sea level rise in the westernmost portion of the downtown area.
The current phase of the project includes design and build out of 270 linear feet of a seawall that will eventually extend 1,000 feet and cost $2M.
Currently the project is before both the State Legislature and the Senate. It will probably take a year to come to fruition. Kreger spoke to the Local Mitigation Strategy, which has included projects since 2015. Kreger explained some of the areas he has asked the city to investigate, including Comprehensive Plan revisions and the Capital Improvements Plan.
Kreger recapped the city’s history of success with state grants to address stormwater issues. To date, the city has received $1.4M to address problems in the North Fletcher area and downtown. This year, Florida communities have been advised to focus state grant requests on stormwater mitigation projects. Federal funds have been sent to Florida and the Gulf States in the wake of Hurricane Irma to address these issues.
“[Stabilizing the shoreline] is the first step in doing a good, comprehensive waterfront plan – the way it’s supposed to be done,” Kreger said. He allowed that once the waterfront area can be stabilized and freed from problems resulting from stormwater surges, the city can move on to consider what the citizens would like to see in the way of public amenities along the waterfront.
Commissioner Chip Ross asked Kreger for his suggestions on how to proceed with this project. Ross asked for further clarification with respect to time frames and project oversight. Kreger said that the money would not be available to the city until July 2018, adding that the City Manager would be in charge of the project.
Kreger said, “We as the city have done lots of right stuff. We’ve done sea level rise studies, sea level rise standards, and hazards. We have everything in order to do this correctly. The city manager will sit down with his staff, which includes two engineers, and decide how to move forward. But for this first phase, we have the specifications. We’ll have to address the subsidence. … Any discussion of parking lots is a bit premature. We don’t want to build a parking lot that we are going to build a seawall in.
City Manager Dale Martin said, “Actually, the first step was submitting this legislative proposal. We will know by March whether or not we get the funding. If we don’t get the funding, we’ll have to decide how to proceed.”
Kreger agreed but said, “We have identified this issue properly and we know that the problem is there. If we don’t get the money, we are still going to have to proceed some way. Sometimes we do not get the funding until the second year, but we want it the first year.”
Commissioner Roy Smith questioned how the first phase came to be limited to 270 feet of shoreline. Kreger, who was backed by Martin, said that the figure came from ATM, the city’s marine engineer consultant. Smith said that the water would still come around the seawall. Kreger agreed, emphasizing that this would only be the first phase.
Smith, who comes from a construction engineering background, said that his problem was understanding how the decision was made to select the initial 270-foot area. Kreger said that information would be made available in the future, but was not part of his presentation. City Clerk Caroline Best was asked to put the more detailed information on line for commissioners and the public to review.
Smith said, “I just don’t want to see this as another thing that we piecemeal.”
Ross tried to summarize. “I think what you’re saying, is that before you would go forward with Parking Lot A or Parking Lot B, this is the first step. Is there any way you could do this in tandem?”
Kreger said that he thought that once the first phase of the seawall was completed, work on the parking lots could proceed.
Mayor John Miller reported on conversations that he recently had with the Mayor of St. Augustine, which is experiencing problems along its waterfront. Their water treatment plant, which is located in the floodplain, is in danger of being compromised. Miller agreed that now is the time for Fernandina Beach to address these issues.
Commissioners did not vote or indicate consensus on proceeding as Kreger outlined. Only Commissioner Smith appeared to express serious misgivings.