Riverfront Project Underway To Help Fortify Fernandina From Flooding

The Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project aims to add better flood protection for Fernandina’s downtown riverfront area.

By springtime of 2022, the riverbank along the south basin of the Fernandina Harbor Marina will be different. Construction work on the Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project began this fall in 2021.

Phase 1 of the project is to “provide flood protection from storms and sea level rise,” according to the city. Besides improved protection from flooding, the public can also look forward to a new elevated river walkway being built as part of this project.

Fernandina Beach riverbank construction site near Atlantic Seafood.
Riverfront Construction Area (South of Atlantic Seafood — October 2021)

The anticipated completion of Phase 1 is by the end of March 2022, impacting Fernandina’s riverbank area at parking lots C and D (outlined in red on parcel map below).

Downtown Fernandina Beach riverfront parcel map, south basin waterfront stabilization project.
Fernandina’s Riverfront Parcels, Phase 1 Waterfront Stabilization Project Area

This section of the shoreline resiliency plan extends south from Atlantic Seafood at the city’s public boat ramp to the southern edge of the city’s property.

Atlantic Seafood Bait & Tackle at downtown Fernandina's public boat ramp.
Atlantic Seafood Bait & Tackle, Fernandina’s Public Boat Ramp (October 2021)

For those less familiar, these two parking lots C & D (along Front Street adjacent to the railroad tracks), are where mariners park boat trailers. The area also contains the riverfront Petanque courts, plus is utilized by those who just need to find an available parking space when downtown.

* Note: Images published below are prior to the start of the Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project (“before” photos). When Phase 1 is complete, Amelia Island Living will publish “after” photos.*

Fernandina Beach Riverbank, Phase 1 Waterfront Stabilization Project Area, View From Dinghy Dock.
Fernandina Beach Riverbank Reflections: “Before” Photo (View From Dinghy Dock)
Removal of Wooden Boardwalk

The boardwalk along the riverfront in this south marina area (pictured below), has now been removed. It will be replaced with an elevated “coquina shell concrete walkway” as part of a new seawall being installed, according to the city.

Fernandina Beach Marina river boardwalk, before photo. To be replaced with coquina cement elevated walkway. Amelia Island Living magazine.
Riverfront Boardwalk To Be Replaced With Coquina Cement Walkway
Environmental Aspect — Living Shoreline

A “living shoreline” is also to be installed. This part of the project is described as “protective reef system using oyster shell filled bags, a precast concrete block mattress system to armor the existing embankment, and planting of various wetland-type grasses.”

Shoreline Protection/ Seawall

A sheet pile seawall (with concrete caps) is to be built — top elevation 9.0 feet (vs. existing ground elevation of around 6 feet). This is intended to prevent river flooding from reaching into the low-lying areas of downtown Fernandina.

Downtown Fernandina, Past Flooding Along Riverfront

The city’s no stranger to flooding associated with hurricanes, Nor’easters, “king tides,” and very rainy periods. (For example, see photo gallery below of Fernandina flooding photographed last year in September 2020 due to Nor’easter.)

Fernandina Beach Marina boardwalk Brett's flooding, Nor'easter. Photo Amelia Island Living magazine.
Atlantic Seafood, Fernandina Harbor Marina flooding, public boat ramp downtown. Amelia Island Living magazine.
Nor’easter Flooding, Atlantic Seafood & City Boat Ramp (photo from archives)
Atlantic Seafood Leaseholder Negotiations

Currently, Phase 1 of this waterfront project with its new river walkway requires the removal of the existing Atlantic Seafood building, the familiar red shack at the boat ramp (a small building of 1,200 square feet). The city had been negotiating a potential new lease with the existing leaseholder, Anne Coonrod, who wanted a new long-term lease of 40 years (plus renewal options). The leaseholder also proposed building a much bigger structure nearby on the riverfront.

Fernandina waterfront reflections, Atlantic Seafood, public boat ramp. Photo by Amelia Island Living magazine.
Waterfront reflections, Atlantic Seafood, Fernandina (photo from archives)

Plans were presented to the city for a new Atlantic Seafood market, but substantially up-sized with additional space to build a new riverfront restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating and landscaping. Initial plans for the new Atlantic Seafood market and restaurant were reportedly 9,200 square feet, then later downsized to 6,500 SF.

City Denies New Lease/Bigger Building

At a city commission meeting held October 5, 2021, the final outcome was a four to one vote to deny a new Atlantic Seafood lease. Per the existing lease, the city has indicated it has the right to remove the building. Thus, it appears the Atlantic Seafood building is destined to be torn down.

Keeping The Open Riverfront View For The Public

One of various objections voiced by some members of the community regarding a potential new lease for Atlantic Seafood was obstructing the currently open riverfront view with a much larger building in this vicinity. Fernandina’s downtown riverfront is especially popular for watching beautiful Amelia River sunsets, as seen below.

Fernandina Beach sunset reflections along river, winter tranquility. Photo by Amelia Island Living magazine.
Waterfront reflections at sunset, south riverbank (photo from archives)

Building a new Atlantic Seafood building of the existing 1,200 SF size on the waterfront, considering today’s building codes and construction costs, to only operate as a seafood market/bait/tackle shop, is not financially feasible, according to the leaseholder. Many in the community won’t like to see a business with such a long presence on the waterfront disappear. However, at the same time, also prefer the riverfront view to remain open for the enjoyment of the people.

Brett’s Waterway Cafe Also Faces Uncertain Fate

There’s been no shortage of challenging decisions in the historic city of Fernandina Beach. Another recent quandary at the riverfront is whether Brett’s Waterway Cafe at the Fernandina Harbor Marina should be forced to close its doors forever at its existing location on the city’s pier. Brett’s appears to be facing a similar fate as Atlantic Seafood — demolition.

The well-known restaurant with its prime waterfront location had been issued a “Notice of Unsafe Structure” by the city’s engineer a few months ago (July 2, 2021). Centre Street Restaurant Group, Inc. (Brett’s leaseholder), on October 20, 2021 (after another inspection of the pier structure), presented their own engineer’s contrary opinion, in an appeal to the city’s Board of Adjustment (BOA). A vote taken at this city meeting denied the appeal. Unless an appeal is filed with the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court, Brett’s days were numbered at 32 to “repair or vacate” (counted as of the 10/20/2021 BOA meeting).

* UPDATE ON BRETT’S STATUS* Just in time for Thanksgiving 2021, some good news came from the District Court for the Centre Street Restaurant Group. Judge Steven Fahlgren ruled in favor of their appeal, stopping the city of Fernandina Beach’s decision to close down Brett’s Waterway Café. So it appears the final Fernandina sunset as seen from Brett’s won’t be anytime soon. Perhaps not for about four years (in 2025), when the time left on the existing lease runs out.

Further Information About Waterfront Stabilization Project

A presentation on Phase 1 of the Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project was presented at a past Fernandina Beach commission meeting. To learn more, watch the July 20, 2021 meeting video item 7.5, award of ITB 2106, Thomas May Construction Resolution 20211110-Amelia River Waterfront. According to comments by Fernandina Beach city manager, Dale Martin, the cost “to construct the resiliency, seawall, and boardwalk components at Parking Lots C and D,” is approximately $2.5 million.

Pétanque Amelia Island Open — Nov. 12-14, 2021
Pétanque America Open, Fernandina Beach, Florida Tournament in November.
Pétanque Courts Along Fernandina’s Riverfront, November Tournament

Phase 1 construction work of the Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project will temporarily cease to allow for the November 12-14, 2021 Pétanque tournament — the Amelia Island Open. The city intends to have the downtown Pétanque courts (pictured above, photo from archives), re-opened and ready for this international tournament played along the riverfront. Spectators like watching the teams play and can purchase food/beverage/merchandise from vendor booths serving players and the public during the event.