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News Bites: Honoring Fallen Veterans; Protecting the Dunes; and Orange Park Water Sale Contemplated

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War is hell, as those of us who’ve grown up in this military-saturated part of the country know even better than most. We all know families who’ve lost loved ones in defense of our freedoms in one warzone or another, but not all those sacrifices were made on the battlefield. The Tribune-Georgian’s Jill Helton reported on Aug. 16 about a little-known local tragedy that is finally getting some long-overdue recognition.

The Thiokol chemical plant, which blew up on Feb. 3, 1971, “manufactured ammunition and trip flares for the U.S. Army to use in the Vietnam War,” Helton writes, “until the day that a fire ignited several flares triggering a catastrophic explosion. The concussion, witnesses said, could be heard from Jacksonville, Fla., to Savannah.” Twenty-nine people died that day, and 50 more were injured. A small memorial was placed at the site, and a museum was built in Kingsland a few years ago, but Camden County’s Board of Commissioners voted Aug. 7 to erect a sign noting the tragedy at the Exit 7 interchange on I-95. The Thiokol Memorial Project must raise $5,000 to pay for it, but that will be no problem.

The resolution notes a contribution that goes beyond mere armaments. “These pioneers bravely led America from a history of social parity and injustice by building a modern workplace that empowered freedom, fortified dignity, and depicted universal acceptance of diversity becoming one of the first workforce[s] in American industry racially integrated and comprised of both men and women earning hourly wages.” That is certainly a legacy worth celebrating, and now it will be.


The downside to living in a region known for its ample beaches is the constant worry about erosion, and there is always a need for fresh thinking on the subject. Julia Roberts of the Fernandina Beach News-Leader reported on Aug. 16 about the most recent discussions to address what has become a critical matter in that community. “Parking and driving on the beach became a controversial subject after the length of the area open to vehicular traffic at Sadler Road was changed following Hurricane Irma,” she writes.

Apparently the vehicle traffic along those beaches has resulted in “considerable damage” to the surrounding dune system, and groups like the Amelia Island Beach & Marine Life Protection Task Force are a bit perturbed, to say the least. “The dunes provide the reserve sand to handle the high-energy waves from storms,” according to resident Dr. Frank Hopf, a beach dunes geomorphologist who raised concerns in a letter to Mayor Johnny Miller. “Storm waves attack the dunes which provide sand to extend the surf zone. They also provide additional elevation to stop overwash. The more height and volume in the dune system, the larger and longer the storm that can be managed without inland damage,” Hopf wrote.

Police Chief James Hurley says the current law does not properly define the relevant boundaries, currently listed at 25 feet from the dune toe. He says that doesn’t allow ample room for residents to drive and park, while actually using the beach itself. These issues will be addressed by city managers in the next month or two, right in time for the end of summer.


Water—we’re surrounded by it. We seem to have way too much of it, but simultaneously not enough. Another thing we don’t have nearly enough of is money, but Orange Park could be getting a nice cash infusion soon, if the Clay County Utility Authority has its way. The CCUA recently made a $20 million offer to buy its water and wastewater system, according to Clay Today’s Wesley LeBlanc. His Aug. 15 article notes that the price could end up higher after an independent appraisal. Either way, it’s a potential game-changer.

“While the $20 million would come in a lump-sum payment,” writes LeBlanc, “the town will lose a significant portion of its revenue if they take it. As it stands, the town earns about $1 million a year from its water utility service.” CCUA would also make an annual payment of roughly $425,000 in lieu of taxes, and add Orange Park’s 3,000 users to its existing customer base of 55,000. The Authority also claims to have advanced technology that would make the system more efficient, and thus cheaper for residents. It seems like a win-win for Orange Park, but Town Manager Sarah Campbell is prudently exercising caution, lest local leaders be left looking all wet.

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