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For the last four years since hurricanes Mathew and Irma, the City of Fernandina Beach has been repairing and upgrading the city owned marina, at the direction of City Manager, Dale Martin, with the promise that FEMA would reimburse 75 percent of the cost. FEMA approved only 10 percent of what was requested, the city appealed, and the appeal is due back Jan. 13, 2021. The city is on the hook for millions of dollars from the Marina due to losses and massive capital expenditures that are unreimbursed.

At this point, “Who is responsible?” is the question that each one of us Fernandina Beach residents should be asking.  Many find a question like this difficult to ask because we would be challenging the government that we rely on to manage the city and protect our resources.  While we do need to figure out how to pay for it, we cannot just turn the page and leave the responsible parties in place to do more damage.

In this article, I lay out the facts below (with a few explanatory comments).  As with any business or government, there must be accountability for actions of our leaders.  We do not need political spin doctors like Commissioner Chip Ross to cover for these poor decisions with his slanted opinion pieces in an attempt to rewrite history. 

Evidence indicates that the marina was not maintained properly over the years contributing to a higher level of damage.  Prior to the hurricanes, the city incurred massive operating losses from marina operations and mismanagement.  This obviously continued after the hurricanes.

Regarding the hurricane damage and rebuild the facts are as follows:

  • Our marina sustained massive damage in hurricanes Mathew and Irma October 3-17, 2016. 
  • The City Manager made the first request for FEMA reimbursement on January 25, 2017 estimating $25 million for marina repairs.
  • FEMA inspectors were on the ground in Fernandina Beach on April 6, 2017
  • Westrec, the marina management company, requested repairs to the fuel dock 5/3/2017 to generate $6,000 day in gross fuel revenues for the city
  • During discussions with FEMA in May of 2017, Mr.  Martin shared “long-term City plans of marina redevelopment: extension of the north docks and realignment of the south docks.”
  • In June 2017, Mr. Martin indicated to his FEMA contact pressure from Commissioners for a status report on FEMA reimbursements.
  • On June 9, 2017, Repair/replacement paperwork was prepared in coordination with Fernandina Beach contractors and FEMA, under the direction of Mr. Martin for a total of $6,522,867.00.
  • On Oct. 6, 2017, the estimates were entered on FEMA Project worksheet form 90-91 Application signed by Mr. Martin.
  • 1/17/2018 City Commission Regular Meeting: Resolution 2018-101 – Provides a Notice of Award and Notice to Proceed for the Southern Attenuator Repair and Replacement Project: to Fender Marine Construction in the amount of $6,152,565.94.
  • On May 31, 2018, the city and FEMA had a conference call to discuss insurer denying coverage and intention of Fernandina Beach to award contracts for repairs on July 17, 2018.
  • On June 20, 2018, several questions were raised by FEMA regarding items to be repaired, replaced and/or relocated plus building permit requests pending.
  • July 9, 2018, Martin informs FEMA that he has contractor quotes and plans to award them on August 7, 2018.  Martin expresses hope that the funds will be obligated by that time so that the city can immediately begin the repairs.
  • On July 20, 2018 in an email to Martin, FEMA indicates concerns with “reconfiguration of the marina”.  Martin replied with frustration.  “My growing frustration is with confusion related to the project. References by Ms. Mayoral, FEMA project manager to reconfiguration of the marina are completely erroneous- UNRELATED TO THE PROJECT CURRENTLY BEFORE THE USACE (Army Corps of Engineers) (AND MOST ASSUREDLY NOT INCLUDED IN THE CURRENT PERMIT APPLICATION) AND NEVER CONSIDERED OR INCORPORATED AS PART OF THE PW.”  Additionally, Martin followed up with “The intent is to repair and replace in the same configuration and location as existed at the time of Hurricane Matthew.”  
    • The “reconfiguration” causes permit delay issues and logistical issues slowing the FEMA process.
  • 8/07/2018: City Commission Regular Meeting; Resolution 2018-103: AUTHORIZING THE ISSUANCE OF LINE OF CREDIT NOTE, IN THE PRINCIPAL AMOUNT OF NOT TO EXCEED $6,600,000 PAYABLE FROM CERTAIN FEMA REIMBURSEMENTS
  • Aug. 15, 2019, FEMA indicated issues with applications for North and South attenuators
  • August 28, 2018, Martin re-shares Applied Technology & Management, Inc. (ATM) preliminary order of magnitude damage assessment with FEMA.  Estimated at $3.2-$4.3 million.  (To support approval of the 50% rule)
  • Oct. 24, 2018, updated FEMA project worksheet 90-91 presented to Martin for signature ahead of submission for approval.  Returned signed Oct. 30, 2018.  (The worksheet is FEMA’s form with Fernandina Beach’s numbers on it)
  • On Sept. 10, 2018, FEMA re-inspected the wave attenuator and prepared an estimate of $6,425,937.50 for damages associated with the southern wave attenuator and an estimate of $1,444,563.68 for damages associated with the northern section of the wave attenuator, check-in (fuel dock building), and fuel dock. However, during the project review process, FEMA found several eligibility issues with the draft project worksheet.
  • On April 3, 2020, FEMA conducted a new review of all documentation and prepared an estimate of $624,768.00 to repair eligible damages for PW 831 ($4,342.50 in direct administrative costs brought the total of this PW to $629,110.50. (Amount approved)
  • KEY REQUIREMENT:  The estimated eligible cost of repairing, restoring, reconstructing, or replacing a public facility is on the basis of the design of such facility as it existed immediately prior to the major disaster.
  • For the 50% rule calculation, the repair cost (numerator) is the cost of repairing disaster-related damage only and includes costs related to compliance with standards that apply to the repair of the damaged elements only. The numerator does not include costs associated with upgrades of non-damaged elements even if required by codes and standard.
  • For the proposed costs for PW 831(FEMA’s project worksheet form),FEMA’s cost estimator reviewed the report provided by the applicant’s engineer and the attenuator replacement cost estimate provided by Bellingham Marina and determined that some of the work and/or costs were not eligible because the facility was only eligible for repair rather than replacement, the work was not necessary as a direct result of the disaster, exceeded what was necessary to bring the facility back to pre-disaster design in conformity with applicable codes, or the proposed costs for the eligible work were not reasonable.
  • Although an initial 50% rule analysis may have been completed, FEMA cannot validate as neither FEMA nor the applicant have the initial analysis. The initial analysis incorrectly included the soft costs in Bellingham’s proposal for replacement at $4,855,583.00 and used a repair estimate of $3,986,770.00 for both the north and south wave attenuator. It is unknown what costs were included in the repair estimate and therefore the 50% rule repair vs. replacement analysis cannot be verified.
  • Repair costs did not exceed 50% of the cost to replace the facility.
  • In the FEMA analysis, replacements included numerous indications of items not damaged included in the repair/replacement estimate.
    • One example of FEMA’s analysis is:  FB requested demolition 66 piles $396k, Bellingham listed 20 piles. FEMA approved demo of 8 piles

Based on the facts, we must conclude that Mr. Martin led the effort to renovate the marina well above the accepted repair levels that FEMA would approve. Mr. Martin oversaw the contractors, signed off on all the estimates, managed the FEMA relationship directly, and requested FB Commission approval to renovate marina and borrow millions. Mr. Martin DID NOT provide adequate warning to the city commissioners regarding clearly stated FEMA concerns with replacement, relocation, and estimates.  Before awarding bids to contractors, Mr. Martin expressed HOPE that FEMA would obligate funds.  Within one week of City Commission approval of the $6.6 million line of credit, FEMA reiterated concerns with applications and estimates.  Mr. Martin misrepresented the level of improvement (versus repairs) that ultimately led to denial of FEMA reimbursement for most of the cost.  

Regardless of whether FEMA denies the appeal or awards more funds, based on the action above, do we want City Manager Dale Martin to continue to manage the city, the marina, our city finances, and our other treasured assets?

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Jack Knocke is Eye’s newest Contributor and will focus on our expansion into the Fernandina Beach and Nassau County area. He has been thrust into the political activist role as he observed major issues with how the City of Fernandina Beach is governed. Earlier this year, Jack along with several others founded Common Sense Fernandina Beach. CSFB has been referred to as a watchdog group. It’s a group of citizens who are interested in ensuring transparency, smart spending, control of taxes and preservation of a quality way of life on the island. Jack has been an entrepreneur in telecom and technology for many years – most recently focused on developing new distribution models for Telecom, IT and the Internet of Things. He has worked as an entrepreneur in Verizon and in fast growing startups. He is currently a consultant helping IT businesses transition into new technologies. We are happy to have Jack on board and look forward to bigger developments with Eye on Nassau County coming soon.

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