By Donald Wittkowski
Kay Jacobs spent $6,000 to build a decorative wall around her garden that doubles as a foot-high barrier to protect her home on the 200 block of Third Street from frequent flooding.
Michael Giordano, Jacobs’ neighbor across the street, says his house has been swamped by storm water so many times that he considers his property the “ground zero” of flooding.
“Every time there’s a storm, I’m underwater,” an exasperated Giordano said.
But after years of frustration for homeowners, the low-lying north end neighborhood where Jacobs and Giordano live is set for a major drainage project that promises to finally give them some relief from Ocean City’s pernicious flooding.
At a town meeting Saturday attended by more than 100 residents, Mayor Jay Gillian and a city flooding consultant announced plans for an overhaul of old drainage pipes and deteriorated roads between First and Eighth streets from West Avenue to the bay.
“What they’re doing is awesome,” Jacobs said of the project.
“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Giordano added.
The plan includes the construction of three new pumping stations to flush storm water off the streets and into the bay. The pumping stations will be built along the bay at Second, Fifth and Sixth streets.
“We’re trying to get the water out quicker, so it doesn’t just sit,” Gillian told the audience during the meeting at the city’s Stainton Senior Center.
The city’s flooding consultant, Michael Baker International LLC, redesigned the drainage project after one, large pumping station was originally proposed on Sixth Street. However, that pumping station would have cost an estimated $20 million to $25 million, far more than what the city was willing to spend for the project.
The mayor said the city will now move ahead with a revised project that will alleviate flooding without “bankrupting us.”
“There’s no more patience left. We’ve just got to get this done,” Gillian said of the long-awaited drainage improvements.
City spokesman Doug Bergen said the project will cost about $9 million. In addition to the three new pumping stations, the work will include raising and repaving the deteriorated roads and replacing drainage pipes that, in some cases, are 40 to 60 years old.
First Ward Councilman Michael DeVlieger, who represents the north end of town, raised the possibility of the city working with local marinas to build new bulkheads or improve the existing ones as another way to fight bayfront flooding.
“While it is only in the preliminary stage, there is much interest on both sides,” DeVlieger said of the talks between the city and the marina owners.
Construction on the drainage project is scheduled to begin as early as this winter and take two years to complete, according to Craig Wenger senior associate for Michael Baker International.
Wenger said plans call for doing the construction work during the quieter, offseason months. But even then, residents should expect some disruptions when new drainage pipes are being installed and roads are being rebuilt, he noted.
“It’s going to be a construction zone. It’s a major project,” Wenger said.
Gillian said there is a possibility some construction could be done during the summer to speed the project along, but only if residents were willing to accept it.
“I’ll do whatever you want us to do just to stop this,” Giordano told city officials, stressing his desire to alleviate the flooding as soon as possible.
Giordano and Jacobs, two of the residents who spoke during the town meeting, said flooding is so severe in their neighborhood along Third Street that homeowners are often trapped in their driveways, unable to move their cars.
Giordano estimated that his property gets flooded between 12 and 15 times per year.
Tired of floodwaters causing thousands of dollars in damage to her property, Jacobs built a $6,000 wall around her garden to save her plants and flowers. She made it higher later on after the original wall didn’t give her garden enough protection from the flooding.
“It’s just a real, big nuisance,” Jacobs said of the storm water.
Wenger explained that the north end project will handle the “nuisance level flooding” that plagues the neighborhood during high tides and rainstorms. He emphasized, though, that the drainage work and new pumping stations would not be enough to stop heavy flooding unleashed by major coastal storms, such as the nor’easter Jonas in 2016 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.