Board of County Commissioners meets in person

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  • The members of the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners and County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin stand at attention Wednesday during the Pledge of Allegiance. PEG DAVIS/NEWS-LEADER
    The members of the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners and County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin stand at attention Wednesday during the Pledge of Allegiance. PEG DAVIS/NEWS-LEADER
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The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners met again Wednesday in their Yulee chambers. It was the first time in months that their meeting was not conducted via videoconferencing technology, a result of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ emergency orders concerning the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing. None of the commissioners wore a face covering but their desk areas were separated by plastic partitions.

As part of the meeting’s proceedings, the BOCC extended the county’s current state of emergency, which is due to the threat of the virus, for another week.

The meeting began with a coronavirus testing report via telephone from Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel, the head of the Florida Department of Health – Nassau County. Ngo-Seidel told the board that as of Tuesday there had been 94 cases positive tests, 86 in residents and eight in non-residents, and that, so far, 70 individuals have been released from the isolation required after testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Addressing the “higher-than-normal” number of cases added lately, Ngo-Seidel said they were related to testing in long-term care facilities. She said a new rule says the staffs at those facilities, which she did not name, must be tested a minimum of every two weeks, and there is a total of about 600 staff members.

She said 5,300 tests have been conducted so far, and the percent positivity rate “remains low at 1.7.” Ngo-Seidel added that 16 residents with the virus have been hospitalized, though some were admitted without any symptoms, and that her department estimates about 15% of the known cases so far have been asymptomatic. “We are seeing a growing number of people that we are not able to identify their source (of infection),” she said.

With President Donald Trump scheduled to accept the Republican Party nomination in Jacksonville in August, a large number of Republican National Convention-related activities and hotel stays are expected to take place on Amelia Island. Commissioner Tom Ford said he was curious if
there is “anything we can do to try to help with that crowd.”

Ngo-Seidel emphasized “staying on the course” to prevent transmission: “We do have visitors coming in. It’s very difficult to know what they are coming with, so it is important for our residents and businesses to use those practices that they have put in place as much as they can to prevent spread.”

With that, she turned things over to Nassau County Emergency Management Director Greg Foster, who said he is continuing to support local municipalities with personal protective equipment and anticipates a “good supply on hand.” Foster added that he has started discussions with neighboring counties on potential “threats” that could arise during the parts of the Republican Convention that will be held in Jacksonville.

Turning to a massive effort to quantify the vulnerability of Nassau County to flooding from all sources, including sea-level rise, so politicians and officials can begin to formulate policies and actions to address both current and future
conditions, the BOCC heard from Craig Diamond of the Balmoral Group. Diamond told the commissioners that Phase I and II of their engagement with the county has been to assess three specific types of flooding: occasional or episodic, driven by existing conditions; event driven, like storm surge during hurricanes; and long-term, which is sea-level rise. Diamond says their task has been to report the data, and “you decide.”

Noting that the Balmoral report was not actually in the agenda packet, a motion was unanimously approved to formally accept the report at a later meeting.

Katie Peay, the county’s storm water engineer, presented a report on efforts to mitigate the chronic flooding issues around Thomas Creek.

Peay said that, while a $3.34 million, nine-phase, six-mile long effort to “de-snag” the waterway has been completed, “desnagging is not the solution.” She plans to produce a report with recommendations in the spring of 2021 that will look at structural mitigation including berms, walls, dredging, and community ponds, and non-structural mitigation such as conservation designations, planning changes, modifying existing homes, and land acquisition. She emphasized it is important not to continue the problems with the building of new homes.

County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin reviewed the federal CARES Act money that has become available to the county via the state. Mullin said an agreement has to be signed via the state’s Department of Emergency Management in order to get $3.8 million, or about 25% of what was supposed to be set aside for the county. He cautioned that there is nothing in the agreement that guarantees the county will get the full amount. The agreement will require a scope of work for the tasks to be performed, quantifiable units of deliverables that must be received and accepted, and expenditures can only be on allowable costs. The counties receiving the funds “should” also disperse them to municipalities, he said. Mullin added that additional money will be on a reimbursement basis, so “you pay it back” if it’s spent on something not allowable.

He said he would bring back a plan within 30 days.

The BOCC also voted to accept a request from the Nassau County School Board not to put a 1 mill property tax increase resolution on the Nov. 3 ballot, given the current economic conditions.

There will not be a county resolution on that ballot asking voters to approve higher taxes for land acquisition either, though plans will continue.

The board also approved using $25,000 in Tourist Development Council funds this fiscal year to collect trash from trash cans that are not on the beach in Fernandina Beach.

Calling it “fun,” Mullin held up a copy of a Florida Politics article from politico.com about how the county has so far defended itself from the lawsuits brought by Raydient Places + Properties and related companies over who is responsible for paying to build and maintain parks in
the East Nassau Community Planning Area, the 24,000 acres that contains the Wildlight community.”

Mullin defended the county’s actions, including the trips made by commissioners to Tallahassee in their ultimately successful attempt to persuade the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee to vote against an amendment to state law that would have proved positive for the developer.

The BOCC also voted unanimously to approve Chairman Danny Leeper’s signing of a lease agreement for the Callahan branch of the Nassau County Public Library System and approve Finance Package 2020-15 related to $11,000 in donations and other monies from Animal Services.

Commissioners accepted monthly status reports from the Building, Code Enforcement, Facilities Maintenance/Parks and Recreation, and Road departments, and approved Leeper signing a Memorandum of Understanding with JEA for the design and construction of a water main from U.S. 17 to Miner Road as part of the William Burgess Extension Project.

At the conclusion of the meeting, condolences were expressed to the families and friends of Phil Scanlan and Wayne “Gator” Tiner. Scanlan was known for his advocacy of additional biking and walking trails in the county, including the East Coast Greenway. Tiner was a well-known local umpire and coach.

Addressing the protests and marches conducted recently, including in Fernandina Beach, in reaction to the killing of black citizens by police officers, Leeper said he sees Nassau County as “very diverse,” and asked if it’s time for a diversity roundtable as a “catalyst for local reform.”

pegdavis@fbnewsleader.com