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Creating a Sustainable Community in Fernandina Beach, Florida

Fernandina Beach, located on Amelia Island, is a small 12 square mile city on the Atlantic Ocean in Northeast Florida with a population of 11,500 people. The city has an extensive publicly acquired greenway system of more than 300 acres, known as the Egans Creek Greenway, which lines the eastern interior border of the island beginning at the southern edge of the existing city limits and ending at Fort Clinch State Park. The city’s downtown central business district on the National Register of Historic Places lies along Centre Street, where buildings host a vibrant mix of retail, office and residential uses. A strong civic presence is maintained downtown and includes city hall, the county courthouse, the main branch library, and a United States Post Office.

Sustainability is a work in progress in Fernandina Beach. In 2008, sustainability became a priority when the city adopted Resolution 2008-37 committing to pursue measures to become a “Green Local Government” through the Florida Green Building Coalition (FGBC). The FGBC is a nonprofit whose mission is to promote cost-effective, sustainable improvements in the built environment and recognize outstanding environmental stewardship efforts within Florida municipalities. One of the first projects undertaken by the city, implemented in 2008, was the move from paper records storage to electronic storage. The goal of this program was to reduce the need to store records in an environment-controlled storage facility.

In 2009, two major sustainable efforts were initiated. The first was implementation of a density bonus incentive program, which includes both green building certification and sustainable site development practices for the city’s community redevelopment area. Energy is a strong element of the development practices, with emphasis on utilization of the Housing Energy Rating (HERS) system as an effective tool.

The city also completed its 7-year Evaluation Appraisal Report (EAR) in 2009. This process is a state requirement to determine if there is a need to update a city’s comprehensive plan. The report included an assessment to identify any major issues. One of the issues identified by the community was sustainability. In evaluating existing and future long-range planning goals, the city acknowledged the essential role sustainable development plays in protecting the health of both the environment and the community. As a local government, the city recognized that it has the ability to impact the global community as it is increasingly recognized that sustainability must be integrated at the local level in order to achieve sustainability globally. To evaluate its comprehensive plan, the city used the framework of sustainability categories to help create quantifiable goals. These categories included:

  • Water + Sewage;
  • Waste Reduction + Recycling;
  • Energy Efficiency + Renewables;
  • Atmospheric Change + Air Quality;
  • Transportation Planning + Traffic Management;
  • Land Use + Urban Form;
  • Housing + Community Development;
  • Community Economic Development;
  • Natural + Cultural Resource Preservation;
  • Community Health + Safety; and
  • Disaster Preparedness + Resiliency.

In 2011, the Northeast Florida Regional Council recognized Fernandina Beach’s EAR-based comprehensive plan amendments with a Regional Award for Excellence in Planning and Growth Management. As part of review by peer agencies, the comprehensive plan update was praised for its “thoughtful approach and use of sound principles and strategies which are appropriate for an environmentally sensitive urban coastal community.”

In 2010, the city manager agreed to form an internal working group of employees dedicated to discovering and promoting ways to conserve resources, reduce energy costs, decrease waste, protect and strengthen the local economy, and save money throughout the city’s governmental operations. This group was called “Sustainable Fernandina.” It explored the city’s existing measures towards being green and developed group goals. That year the committee achieved a number of accomplishments. It established a centrally located city recycling center, created procedures for recycling within city facilities and departments, and began transitioning its boards, committees and the city commission from paper to electronic agenda packets. In the years which followed, the group opened to include several active citizen volunteers interested in supporting the city’s efforts. Collectively, the group accomplished a variety of goals between 2011 and 2012 including:

  • Lighting replacement of almost all city lighting with CFL and LED lighting, resulting in 50 to 75 percent energy savings for lighting;
  • Implemented an enhanced city-wide curb-side recycling program which increased recycling collection on average 35 to 90 tons a month;
  • Held semi-annual recycling and hazardous waste disposal events;
  • Improved vehicle operation standards;
  • Issued recommendations for renewable energy solutions, including, installation of recreational pool solar systems;
  • Held beach clean-up events with partner organizations;
  • Sought measureable ways to improve littering at the beach;
  • Evaluated use of alternative energy systems such as a photovoltaic, solar, and wind.

In 2013, Fernandina Beach completed a comprehensive energy survey resulting in a city energy plan. This plan includes the tracking of detailed energy usage by facility and the establishing of specific energy goals for each facility. For example, the fire department has committed to the “Chief’s Energy Challenge,” a national program which has a goal to achieve a 10 percent energy savings the first year and 20 percent in three years. The city’s energy plan also calls for monitoring of heating and cooling temperatures based on national standards and appropriate night setbacks.

The city’s information technology department relocated the city data center to an energy-efficient facility in Jacksonville. Additional recommendations include consideration of automated building systems along with the establishment of effective computer maintenance management systems to ensure that the city is able to achieve its recommended lift cycle for equipment. A program to ensure all renovations and new construction utilize the best available, cost-effective sustainable systems and equipment available is also in place.

Later this year, Fernandina Beach, in partnership with Florida Public Utilities, Florida Sea Grant, the Transportation Planning Agency and Nassau County, will host a sustainable lecture series. Topics to be covered will include energy conservation/efficiency, alternate transportation methods and sea level rise. Businesses and residents are encouraged to attend and participate.

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Author: Len Kreger, Fernandina Beach Volunteer Energy Coordinator, with support from the Fernandina Beach Planning Department.  

 

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