By BLANCHE HARDY, PG
Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Division of Water Restoration Assistance and Nassau County recently celebrated the groundbreaking of a new water distribution system and waste water system for the historic American Beach community on Amelia Island.
American Beach is a historic African-American beach community. Per DEP’s historic outline notes, the community was founded in 1935 by Abraham Lincoln (A L.) Lewis. American Beach was created as a vacation haven for African-Americans denied access to other resorts prior to desegregation.
In the early 1930s, A.L. Lewis became president of Florida’s first insurance company, the Afro-American Life Insurance Company in Jacksonville, and was Florida’s first African-American millionaire.
He created American Beach through the purchase of 200 acres of prime Florida beachfront so his employees and their families could enjoy the shore.
More than 70 years later, in January 2002, American Beach was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This current project will be funded through a combined $12 million Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act’s Small, Underserved, and Disadvantaged Communities grant, legislative appropriation grant, and low-interest State Revolving Fund loans.
Currently, American Beach residents, as most residents and businesses on Amelia Island, rely entirely on groundwater wells and septic tanks for water and sewer respectively.
Many of the potable water wells in American Beach have been compromised and are no longer viable.
The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) established the American Beach Water and Sewer District (ABWSD) in 2020 to improve water and sewer access in the community and will construct the proposed water and sewer improvements within their now established service area.
The new potable water mains and wastewater collection systems will service each of the 287 parcels within the service area and also provide reliable fire protection to the community.
Construction of the drinking water portion of the new water supply is partially funded by a Small and Disadvantaged Communities Drinking Water Grant (2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act) awarded by the FDEP’s Division of Water Restoration Assistance as well as a DWSRF construction loan with principal forgiveness.
The wastewater portion of the construction is funded through a CWSRF construction loan with principal forgiveness.
In addition to secured agency funding the BCC pledged to provide $1.85 million of legally available non-ad-valorem funds. A majority of property owners within the District approved an assessment to help fund the project in a survey conducted by the county.
The non-ad-valorem funds will be used to offset individual assessments reducing the burden on property owners. BCC Chairman Aaron Bell said in consideration of the recommendation, “It is very important that we already have $9 million from the state and also have ARPA money.”
This action of the BCC exemplifies the collaborative spirit between the American Beach Community, the Board of County Commissioners, state officials, and contract consultants. Nassau County BCC entered a contract with the Florida Governmental Utility Authority to carry out all professional engineering and capital project administration services during the design, bidding, and construction phases of the improvement project.●