Fernandina Harbor Marina Begins Hurricane Repairs

With dock repairs now underway, the city-owned Fernandina Harbor Marina in Florida is hoping to reopen some of its operations by June.

The marina has been a popular stopping point for boats traveling up and down the Atlantic Coast for many years. “We’re the first and last stop in Florida, 5 miles off the coast in a protected harbor and with a 13-mile fetch,” said Joe Springer, marina manager. “Prior to Hurricane Matthew we were doing over 14,000 boat nights a year.”

The marina had 120 slips and 20 mooring balls, although siltation prevented boaters from using about 25 percent of the slips. The city was preparing to launch (and had secured some of the funding for) a planned seven-year renovation program that would make the whole facility operational again. It had already started rebuilding the wave attenuator dock in 80-foot sections.

But when the storm hit in 2016—the first hurricane to hit the area since Dora in 1964—the marina was devastated. “The initial damage estimate to the Fernandina Beach area was $20 million; all but $1 million of that damage was at the marina,” Springer said. However, thanks to the protection offered by a 30-year-old Bellingham floating breakwater dock, only one of the 41 boats in the marina during the storm suffered any damage, and that was minor.

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For the past two years, the marina has been operating at a very limited capacity. Before it finally shut down last fall, it was reduced to five mooring balls, 14 long-term commercial boats and just three long-term private boats.
“It was devastating,” Springer said. He also noted that the loss of marina guests has had a huge economic impact on the merchants in downtown Fernandina Beach.

During this time the city has been working with multiple federal and state government agencies to get the marina back into operation. “We ended up breaking the project down into three pieces, and we’re working on piece one now,” Springer said.

For the project, the marina has separated the 1,200-foot wave attenuator into two sections. The 800-foot southern section, which was used strictly for boat dockage, would be rebuilt first. The northern section, used for dockage, fuel sales and a small marina store on a floating dock, will come later.

As of mid-January, workers had demolished the marina’s old floating docks and were removing the piling for the southern wave attenuator. Fender Marine Construction of Orlando, Florida, is handling this project, which includes the installation of new piles and a new floating attenuator dock. (The dock manufacturer had not yet been selected.)

At the same time, another company, Brance Diversified from Jacksonville, has been taking out the piling, docks and slips inside the southern basin. (The existing walkways to the slips will now serve as dinghy docks.) Brance Diversified will then dredge the basin and install a single 750-foot dock. That new dock, running parallel to the shoreline, should reduce the siltation problems at the marina, since there will no longer be slips blocking the current flow through the area.

“It will wash itself out so that we won’t need the dredges as often,” Springer said.

Brance Diversified has also demolished an old, unused building on the northern end of the marina.

Springer hopes to hold the marina’s soft opening later this spring. Meanwhile, the city is waiting for final approval for the restoration of the northern 304-foot portion of the attenuator, which will house the fuel docks. Springer said this is a very important service to provide for boaters, and an important economic factor for the marina. The lack of fuel sales has been the biggest financial hit for the marina since the storm.

Once the permits are approved and the fuel dock is ready, the marina also hopes to remove the remaining 20 mooring balls and replace them with 72 new mooring balls.

One thing that will not be replaced at this time is the ships’ store. “It was our intention initially to replace it, but FEMA said there was no reason they should pay for a retail store on the docks. They will, however, allow us to have a place to check boaters in and out on the docks,” Springer said.

Funding from FEMA and from the state should cover 87.5 percent of the $6.4 million cost of the marina repairs.