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Return of water taxi to Fernandina Beach?

Service could connect to St. Marys, Ga., closing gap in East Coast Greenway

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FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – A biking and walking trail that stretches from Florida to Maine has an 8-mile gap between Fernandina Beach and St. Marys, Georgia. Some are hoping to bridge that gap in the East Coast Greenway with a new water taxi service.

Without the water taxi, the only option for bikers and hikers is to go 30 miles out of the way to reconnect to the nearly 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway trail.

Right now, the trail isn't completely traffic free, which is the goal once the project is finished. The cities of Fernandina Beach and St. Marys, Georgia, are looking to help meet that goal by bridging a gap over Amelia River with a water taxi.

"Anybody that comes, stays overnight, maybe stays a couple of nights, has a Pirate Punch at the Palace, it all benefits the community," Fernandina Beach City Manager Joe Gerrity said.

Supporters of the water taxi said that this could help connect the East Coast Greenway from St. Marys to Fernandina, making it easier for bikers and walkers to get across.

"I think it would be great. We're bike riders and we pull our dogs in a trailer behind us in fact and having an easy connection would make it very nice," Fernandina Beach visitor Vicki Zeldin. "Much more usable than it is now. Even riding on a ferry would be fun too, bike or no bike."

And this is not a new concept. In 2008 the city had a water taxi, but because of the recession, there wasn't enough demand.

Kevin McCarthy said he shut the taxi down in 2011 but would love to get it started again. He said his proposal to the city would include a boat that would carry 49 passengers and cost around $150,000 a year to operate.

The city said it plans on helping out a bit, too.

"The city is committed to giving the operator two years of dockage at the marina at no cost," Gerrity said. "Which is probably about $10,000 a year. So the city does have some financial commitment toward the success of the water taxi."

There's another organization locally that is looking to help raise gas money for whoever ends up operating the water taxi. Right now, the city said it plans on getting proposals and will pick the most qualified person to operate the service.