Uncollected yard waste in city frustrates many

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Piles of leaves, branches, palm fronds and other yard waste are a common sight on streets in Fernandina Beach. Citizens complain to city employees that Advanced Disposal – the city’s contractor – does not do a satisfactory job of picking up yard waste.

Greg Huntington, Municipal Marketing and Governmental Affairs manager for Advanced, discussed the issue when he presented the company’s annual report to the Fernandina Beach City Commission at its Aug. 4 meeting.

Advanced Disposal is to be rolled into Waste Management as part of a $5 billion acquisition that has been in the works for more than a year. Huntington said the deal should be done by Nov. 30.

Huntington said while his company has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, it has not had to suspend any services; a good thing since, he noted, the amount of trash being collected has been growing.

Huntington explained the city has had a 19% increase in tonnage collected over 2019, from 776 tons to 920 tons per month. In the first six months of 2019, Advanced collected 1,435 tons of yard waste, but during the same period this year that number jumped to 1,620 tons.

Huntington said Advanced Disposal had the contract to collect trash in the city for 10 years before the city put out a Request For Proposals and subsequently negotiated a new contract with them in May 2018.

Under the old contract, yard waste was collected and taken to the city-owned airport, where it was mulched by the city. The city stopped that practice.

The current contract calls for yard waste to be collected and taken off the island and also requires customers to bag what yard waste they can and bundle branches together.

City Manager Dale Martin said the City Commission did not note until after the contract was signed that residents would not want to bag and bundle. The city then decided that residents are encouraged, but not required, to bag and bundle.

“It just didn’t take. Meaning, I don’t think that is what the residents really wanted to do,” Huntington said. “Even though the contract says this, we know that ultimately that’s not necessarily what the citizens of Fernandina Beach want to do, so we went back to doing what we were always doing, which is just not efficient.”

Huntington gave some options for solutions to the problem, one of which would involve Advanced buying equipment and leasing space at the airport to essentially restart the mulching operation there. The mulch could either be spread at the airport or transported off the island. Huntington said the currently monthly residential rate of $22.23 would see an increase between $5.94 to
$7.94. Another option, he said, is to add a truck that is a “leaf sucker” that acts as a vacuum in conjunction with a grapple truck, resulting in a monthly increase of $4.40.

Commissioner Phil Chapman gave examples of how Advanced has provided poor service, but Huntington said Advanced has a “less than 1% complaint ratio.” 

Chapman said Advanced gave the city a price and it’s not “Fernandina’s fault” that the company is having issues with yard waste. Huntington reminded him the contract requires residents to bag and bundle yard waste, something that hasn’t been enforced.

Chapman said the city furnished a truck to assist Advanced with trash pickup, and asked Huntington if the company would reimburse the city for the use of that truck. Huntington said he would have to “take that under advisement.”

Huntington said Advanced cannot spend capital to change its procedure with yard waste until the acquisition by Waste Management goes through. He said once the deal is complete, he will present to Waste Management the plan he had presented to the City Commission and see how the company wants to proceed. In the meantime, the city plans to send a survey to residents so they can rate Advanced’s performance and provide feedback.

The City Commission and Huntington agreed to wait for both of those things to occur before moving forward.

The City Commission also discussed the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the city, which brought about a question of whether to open the city’s soccer fields.

Martin said he has received requests from teams not associated with Nassau County schools to reopen the fields to play.

“The arguments are, it’s an outdoor activity for the children, it gives them something to do. Being outdoors, the likelihood of COVID – they write to me – is minimized substantially,” Martin said. “Staff has recommended to me they believe social distancing would be violated among parents and spectators. They are hesitant.”

Marian Phillips, an employee of the Nassau County School District who is also running for the Group 1 seat on the City Commission, shared a message from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathy Burns saying that practices could begin Aug. 24, but the district was waiting for direction from the Florida High School Athletics Association. It was the consensus of the commission to wait and see how the school district deals with sports.

Commissioners approved on first reading an ordinance that would change the power to declare an emergency in the city. City Attorney Tammi Bach explained the proposed ordinance requires the mayor and city manager to jointly declare an emergency, instead of only the city manager. If they don’t agree, the matter would come to the City Commission. The ordinance would also add a $75 penalty to the ordinance requiring a facemask to help curb the transmission of the coronavirus. Further changes are being discussed that could give the city’s Code Enforcement Department responsibility for enforcing the use of facemasks. The changes will be made before the ordinance is brought back to the commission for a second reading.

The commissioners heard from Grants Administrator Lorelei Jacobs about a $500,000 grant opportunity available from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for resiliency projects. Two of those projects are a living shoreline on the Amelia River waterfront and improvements to beach walkovers. Both projects are “shovel-ready,” she said.

Commissioner Dr. Chip Ross said he spoke with Passero Associates, the local engineering firm that won a bid to build a shoreline stabilization system on the waterfront, about the living shoreline project.

Vice Mayor Len Kreger said making the walkover at Beach Access 30 handicap accessible would be easy and require no permits.

Jacobs said she would reach out to Passero, who had not returned her calls, and the matter will come back to the commission for a decision Sept. 1.

The commission agreed to move forward with adding a multi-purpose room to the Housing Authority building. The 15-by-17-foot room could be used for youth activities and educational programs. Passero has agreed to provide design at no charge. RPM Lumber will provide materials at cost. Habitat for Humanity will provide the labor. 

Kreger told the commission the city has a request in to the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council for $200,000 toward work on the beach walkover at Seaside Park, reasoning that 70% of the use of the walkover is by tourists.

Ross said the Municipal Service Taxing Unit, a taxing mechanism used to fund beach renourishment, is only put on property owners on the island but city taxpayers are “paying more than their fair share.” He asked Martin to reach out to the county manager to spread that tax out more evenly. Kreger supported it.

Several residents complained about some sand fencing installed to keep them from walking around Beach Access 7N. It is difficult, they said, for small children as well as adults carrying coolers and beach gear to walk over the access.

Martin responded that a long-term solution would be to install ramps on some walkovers, but ramps are expensive. Kreger said he can create a plan, with funding in place, to put ramps on at least one walkover in that area.

The City Commission also heard a proclamation by Miller honoring Jovan Leonard Richo Sr., who was killed in the city a year ago. Zachary Verdier Jamison was arrested on charges of second-degree murder and aggravated assault in the case.

In other business, the commissioners:

• Approved use of the city seal in brochures created by the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau;

• Approved a voluntary annexation agreement for 753 Magnolia Lane;

• Approved the transfer of $23,513 in the Peck Center budget to replace an elevator door operator;

• Approved a plat for Cottages at Amelia, a 10-unit townhome development on South Eighth Street;

• Approved a contract with UnitedHealthcare for a dental plan covering city employees;

• Agreed to proceed with a lawsuit against the Ocean Highway and Port Authority regarding Payments In Lieu Of Taxes, a $50,000 annual payment the port has paid in the past but has refused to continue paying; Bach said she will lead that lawsuit, saving the city money on additional attorney fees;

• Approved Marina Utilities as a sole source vendor in an amount of not more than $13,576 to install an electrical power source and fire line at the marina;

• Approved Champion Turf as a sole source vendor for not more than $25,000 to install turf at the city golf course and DL Holland as a contractor to provide fill dirt at the airport for $26,040, both part of the installation of Toptracer;

• Approved on second reading placing a charter amendment on the ballot, allowing voters to decide if an amendment should be added to the charter that requires a referendum for the sale or lease of city-owned conservation land; and

• Appointed Douglas Deib to the Airport Advisory Commission.

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