Two races give voters a chance for new direction on Fernandina Port Authority

Election-Day---Hana-v-Nelson
Chris Ragucci's departure presents a new opportunity for the Port.

One of the ongoing conflicts with the Port of Fernandina’s Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) is now removed from the equation, as Chris Ragucci sold his interest in Worldwide Terminals and Port operator Nassau Terminals to a partnership of Utah and New York firms. Into this new Pax Fernandina is a chance to give a new direction to the OHPA Board.

Commissioner Scott Hanna is mounting a re-election bid in District 3, while the seat is open in District 4. 

Hanna first won election to the Port Authority in 2018, defeating then-incumbent Commissioner Adam Salzberg 50.6%-49.4%, a difference of 200 votes among the 16,140 cast. Hanna made Port transparency a central part of his 2018 campaign, and transparency issues were a problem between OHPA and the Port operator, Nassau Terminals, during the Ragucci era.

Hanna loaned his campaign $3,000 in May and spent more than that over the past months, leaving the campaign in the red by more than $1,400. He faces Justin Taylor in the open Republican Primary. 

Taylor, a former Nassau County Commissioner, was recently named as one of Nassau County’s “40 under 40” by the local News-Leader and Nassau County Record newspapers. He left the County Commission to run for Supervisor of Elections in 2020. Janet Adkins won a close three-way race by 240 votes over Taylor. Stan Bethea came in third with 156 fewer votes than Taylor.

There are some tasks to accomplish first to improve the Port, he said in a campaign video

“The charter allows the Port Authority to issue bonds which could be used (in economic development) to strengthen our local economy,” Taylor said, noting its founding as an eco-devo engine for the county, and that the Port should work with community partners to sustain growth.

He’s spent around $1,400 of his $2,050. 

For District 4, it’s Nate Bell, Kyle Caswell and Ray Nelson, with Caswell yet to show any campaign finance activity so far. Bell spent around $645 of his $750, and Nelson spent more than $3,700 of his $5,750 going into the last weeks of the campaign.  

Nelson, the terminal manager for Worldwide Terminals — which wholly owns Nassau Terminals — gave his campaign $5,000 in June and picked up a couple more contributions later, including from OHPA Chairman Danny Fullwood. Fullwood and current officeholder Carrol Franklin both endorsed Nelson in comments at the end of a recent Port Authority meeting.

“With over 40 years in the maritime industry, there are few people in Nassau County who understand the needs of the Port of Fernandina, the Port Authority or the employees as well as I do,” Nelson said when announcing his campaign. “I have dedicated my life to this unique sector of the economy. I worked hard to understand and succeed in this line of work. The real motivation was knowing no one was behind me but my shadow.”

“I look forward to the chance to discuss my vision for the Port with county taxpayers,” Nelson added. “With the current challenges that exist with the Port, we need leaders on the Authority who will work to repair relationships, understand the nature of the maritime business and ensure the long-term sustainability of the Port Authority.”

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe



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