A Look At Fernandina’s New River Walkway, Waterfront Stabilization Project

As the summer of 2022 approaches, the Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project (Phase 1) is nearing completion. The project features a new seawall and walkway in downtown Fernandina Beach. Construction work began back in September 2021. The seawall/walkway runs parallel to the riverbank on the southern section of the Fernandina Harbor Marina.

The river walk is likely to attract plenty of foot traffic this summer — even more so as daylight wanes. For newcomers or visitors who are unfamiliar, it’s the downtown riverfront along the western side of Amelia Island that’s a popular place to linger to watch a Fernandina sunset.

Riverfront sunset at Fernandina Harbor Marina, southern basin. Photo by Amelia Island Living magazine.
Riverfront Sunset At Fernandina Harbor Marina, South Basin

The Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project aims to add better flood protection for low-lying areas of downtown Fernandina. The coquina shell concrete walkway also features a seawall low enough to double as a seat for those who wish to sit down and relax. Some also like to linger by the riverfront to observe the marina’s boating activity. Sometimes extraordinary vessels dock at the city’s downtown marina, a stopover for mariners during voyages along the intracoastal waterway.

Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project Phase 1, Downtown Fernandina (Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com April 23, 2022)
Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project, Downtown Fernandina (Photo April 23, 2022)
Sunset View Along Riverfront, Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina. Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com
Sunset View Along Riverfront, Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina
Amelia River Shoreline Resiliency Plan

This segment of the shoreline resiliency plan (A.K.A. Waterfront Stabilization Project Phase 1), extends south from Atlantic Seafood at the city’s public boat ramp to the southern edge of the city’s property.

Fernandina Beach Riverfront Cement Walkway Next To Atlantic Seafood, Fernandina Harbor Marina Public Boat Ramp.
New River Walk Near Atlantic Seafood, Fernandina Harbor Marina Public Boat Ramp

One aspect of the project is the “living shoreline.” Pictured below is a low tide look at the layers of Fernandina’s living shoreline along the marina’s south basin.

Fernandina Beach riverfront living shoreline. Oyster shell-filled bags, precast concrete block mattress system, wetland-type grasses. Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project.
Fernandina’s Living Shoreline: Oyster Shell-filled Bags, Wetland Grasses. Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization
What Is A Living Shoreline?

The“living shoreline” aspect of the waterfront stabilization project has been described by the city as a “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.”

Fernandina Harbor Marina Waterfront Stabilization Project, Amelia River. Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com
Fernandina Harbor Marina Waterfront Stabilization Project, Amelia River

The benefits of living shorelines, according to the National Centers For Coastal Ocean Science, is explained in the infographic below.

What is a living shoreline? Explained by National Centers For Coastal Ocean Science, infographic. Coastalscience.noaa.gov

Adjacent to the new river walkway are the city’s waterfront parking lots C & D (shown below outlined in red). The project’s construction zone had been blocked off to the public for about seven months, starting in early fall of 2021.

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

Some of the images seen here of the Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project were taken on April 23, 2022 while the walkway was briefly opened to the public. Around that time construction work had been temporarily paused since the city was getting ready for the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival.

Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina low tide looking north toward Brett's. Photo by Amelia Island Living.
Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina, Low Tide Looking North Toward Brett’s Waterway Cafe

The riverfront Petanque courts formerly located at the south end of the city’s property remain to be rebuilt. It’s estimated the courts will be finished in “6 to 8 weeks” as of May 10, 2022, according to the city of Fernandina’s Facebook page.

Fernandina Beach riverfront parking area lots C & D construction zone. (Photo AmeliaIslandLiving.com, May 16, 2022)
Fernandina Beach Riverfront Lots C & D (Photo May 16, 2022)
Future Phases of Waterfront Stabilization?

As noted previously, this segment of riverfront resiliency is known as the first phase of the Amelia River Waterfront Stabilization Project. The outcome of a city commission vote taken on April 19, 2022 has created uncertainty as to the future timeline and funding to continue the waterfront resiliency project northward along the river.

General Obligation Bond Referendum

On the agenda at the April 19, 2022 city commission meeting was Item 7.1“Bond Referendum Direction.” Up for discussion was how (and if) to proceed with a bond and intent (amount and specifics). City commissioner Chip Ross made a motion for a $20 million bond (30 year payback).

The estimated cost of further work on waterfront resiliency along the Amelia River downtown (if continued north along the shoreline from Phase 1), was estimated at $8 million, according to comments made by commissioner Ross at the April 19th meeting. This $8 million (of the proposed $20 million bond), could allow the city to do the boat ramp segment, parking lots A and B and 101 Front Street to help prevent coastal flooding, stated commissioner Ross.

After further discussion of the city taking on $20 million in debt and commentary by city residents, the commissioners voted on Resolution 2022-66 (General Obligation Bond Referendum). The outcome was a 4 to 1 vote against moving forward with the bond referendum.

The city does apply for grants to obtain funding of certain eligible projects. Thus, there’s a possibility that some future funds for continuing north the waterfront stabilization project could be obtained eventually if grants were pursued and successfully awarded.

For further information on this city vote, including discussion and public commentary by citizens at the meeting, watch the April 19, 2022 Fernandina Beach commission meeting at city government website.

A Look Back — The Old Wooden Boardwalk, “Before” Photo

Prior to the new river walkway, the former structure was a wooden boardwalk (pictured below). It was removed in fall of 2021 when the waterfront construction project began.

See also related content, “Riverfront Project Underway To Help Fortify Fernandina From Flooding (published in October 2021).

By The Editor

Observations of island life, news & opinion by W.B. Lawson. Wendy has enjoyed the laid-back Amelia Island lifestyle since 1993. Her professional background began at a newspaper in NY. She then worked in PR/Investor Relations at Fortune 500 company, and later became a managing editor at an equity research publishing firm. She was Series 7 licensed while with Merrill Lynch Private Client Group.