Ocean City has brought in a lobbying firm to help it navigate through a thicket of environmental regulations that are slowing down its plans to dredge the clogged lagoons and channels along the back bays.
Voting unanimously Thursday night, City Council agreed to hire Tonio Burgos and Associates of New Jersey LLC at a rate of $5,000 per month through the rest of 2016. The professional services contract is worth a total of $55,000, but can be terminated early if the city feels Tonio Burgos is not performing its job.
“If they can’t do it, we’ll find someone else who can,” Mayor Jay Gillian told council members.
Gillian, who pushed for the hiring of a lobbyist, said Tonio Burgos will develop a strategy to cut through government red tape and secure public funding for the dredging program, which carries an estimated price tag of $20 million.
“Look, we have a dredging problem,” the mayor said.
Tonio Burgos will work with the city’s dredging consultant, ACT Engineers, to acquire the necessary permits and craft both short-term and long-range plans to complete the project.
Gillian and other city officials have complained that efforts to clear out the mud-choked lagoons are being hampered by onerous regulations imposed by the state and federal agencies that oversee the dredging permits.
Councilman Michael DeVlieger said he hopes Tonio Burgos can “shake things up” at the regulatory agencies to help the city.
Councilman Peter Guinosso asked Gillian whether the city would be getting its money’s worth by hiring a lobbyist. Guinosso also wanted to know if there are ways to monitor Tonio Burgos’ performance.
“They have to perform,” Gillian responded.
City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson noted that the contract can be canceled within 30 days if the city feels Tonio Burgos is not doing a good job.
Gillian is hopeful that Tonio Burgos will ultimately save the town some money by bringing all of the key agencies together and accelerating the dredging process.
“We’ve got to get the people in the room who make the decisions and have the money,” he said.
The mayor has proposed spending $20 million for dredging in the city’s capital plan, but has warned that the cost could balloon to $80 million if the project continues to crawl along.
The city plans to build a new temporary road to a dredge-spoils disposal site near the 34th Street Bridge. Dredge materials are stored at the site before they are hauled out by barge then truck for permanent disposal at a Wildwood landfill. The new road would allow more trucks to cart away the mud and silt, speeding up the disposal process, but the permitting for the road has created delays.
In its proposal to the city, Tonio Burgos pledged to develop plans for disposing of the dredge spoils in a way that will be both “environmentally and economically responsible.”
While Tonio Burgos will focus on the lobbying, ACT Engineers will oversee the dredging work. The city has already paid ACT Engineers more than $1 million for its services. At its meeting Thursday, Council authorized spending an additional $160,000 to have the company continue its work.
In another vote, Council agreed to advertise for construction bids for the first phase of the city’s road improvement program for 2016. The project, which will help alleviate flooding, will initially focus on the area around 14th and 16th streets.
See PDF below for a full list of the road projects.