By Coleman Langshaw, 2-13-23
I could not but laugh when I read Bob Allison’s diatribe about the marina, and his amazingly incorrect, if not outright deception to the readers and people of Fernandina.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Bob, he even hired me to run the day-to-day operations at the marina back in the mid-1980’s, which I did in both the private and public sector for 21 years, during and after his tenure at the marina. Suffice it to say, I know Bob, and I also know that he can make a compelling argument, even if he skews the facts. People believe him because he is extremely confident and a quite charming individual…but he has always had his agenda, and he will go forth, taking no prisoners. His diatribe in the recent edition of the News-Leader is a case in point. It is important to point out that Bob is a world class sailor, and he knows a great deal about boats and marinas, which makes his argument about our marina even more puzzling.
What Bob seems to forget (or chooses not to remember), is that it was his marina design that became the greatest mud and silt trap in Fernandina. That design, before the current one, became such a debacle, that 85-90% of the slips were unusable. That marina required hundreds of thousands yards or silt to be removed every three years or so. And yes it had many more slips than the current marina, but unless boats were hovercrafts, those numerous slips were essentially a mirage.
And when the siltation “hit the fan”, Bob was bought out and he exited with a big pocket full of money. The marina problems were abandoned by Bob Allison, and we got stuck with the mess.
For years, we the on-site managers were the scapegoats for the marina’s financial mess. We were called incompetent because we could not make enough money to pay for the constant dredging. It was not until the private operators took over the marina, that people started pointing the finger away from the day-to-day management and facing the fact that it was a design flaw.
My great friend, Dockmaster Kevin Little and I realized the true problem, and proposed the concept of two long parallel docks that aided the water flow through the marina. Kevin and I worked for countless hours, ages ago, with Rob Semmes and ATM about this design. It was so obvious that Bob’s congested dock layout, with fingers perpendicular to the water flow, along with the vessels tied to them, were the problem.
As the design came forward, Kevin and I also knew from decades of experience, that since the design wasn’t open-ended each way, vessels would need ample space to turn around, hence the wide fairway.
As aside note for those landlubbers, we have a strong current here, and with this new design it is not slowed by Bob’s obstructions. It is problematic at times for visiting boaters who have to navigate inside and make this maneuver, but by providing ample space between the docks in the fairway, it is possible. More importantly, the fairway has to be wide enough to turn, especially when there are also other vessels already tied up on both docks, further diminishing the turning area.
I can personally attest to all of this. I am a USCG Licensed Master (100 Gross Tons) and operate all three of the Windward sailing vessels at the marina (the smallest 32 feet and the largest a 37 foot catamaran). With a falling tide, even on the smallest boat, I have to run just feet away from the boats tied up on the attenuator (breakwater) and spin sharply towards our dock across from the attenuator. We captains don’t have a lot of room for this, but if we did as Bob suggested (narrow the fairway, and add docks)…we couldn’t do it at all, not to mention SAFELY.
I can now way, that with this new design, 80-90% of the marina is usable at all tides, and the need for dredging has decreased considerably. If you want proof, just walk down “E” dock at dead low tide (come when there’s a west wind and a new moon) and you will see there is no mud anymore. This is where there used to be mud six inches above the water, in the middle of Bob’s old design. Again, one would need a hovercraft to come and go at low tide.
Bob also has contended that we should back fill submerged lands, by creating a bulkhead, to make more uplands…well, this has so many holes that it would sink that ship instantly. Bob implies that the DEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) and USACE (US Army of Corps of Engineers) would not have a problem with this, and yet Bob, of all people should know how unrealistic that is from an enviro-regulatory standpoint. Remember, Bob did all of the original permitting for the first marina redevelopment back in the 1980’s.
The fact is, we actually tried to do that. With the help of Rob Semmes and ATM, a bulkhead was designed and proposed to the DEP and USACE. Both regulators had serious concerns and objections, and would only allow such a structure, if it were to create a new marshland that would be over-washed at higher tides for the spartina within the bulkhead area. The bottom line: no expanded uplands to be useable by pedestrians. A lot of money for a pointless effort.
And one last point to Bob’s assertions: “The City would also not be hanging its hat on some vague confiscation scheme to seize property of its next door neighbor in an attempt to solve an economic problem it actually created itself”.
Where do I begin?
Bob knows all too well that naturally deep water exists just north of the marina. If Bob could have had access to the adjacent waters, he most certainly would have jumped at the opportunity to put docks in water that never need to be dredged and is almost instantly 10 feet deep right at the docks. Yes, there are obstacles to this, riparian rights, and the Federal Navigational Channel (this is different than the ICW), to name some. It is not impossible however, but it would take cooperation with property owners and working with the USACE to make things happen. This is another story in itself, that I may address at another time. Suffice it to say that shrimp boats have docked there for generations in deep water, and the Port of Fernandina has depths dockside that are 40-50 feet. Why do you think that eight flags flew over Fernandina and Amelia? Not for the golf courses (just kidding of course), they all knew how important our harbor was for deep-draft vessels. Naturally deep water, right along the shore, on the lee side of a barrier island. It was, and still is, a perfect harbor because of its natural characteristics.
So for decades, Kevin Little (rest his soul) and I worked, fought, demanded, and pleaded that the City use our concept, designed by ATM. We may have less slips in a pure number count now, but when the tide subsides, we now by far have more usable, sellable slips than with Bob Allison’s design. The math works in our favor, the engineering works in our favor, the proof is in the pudding, not the mud. I hope that my buddy Kevin is smiling from above, I only wish he were still here to reap the rewards of our efforts in person.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.