City Council on Thursday (Dec. 3) unanimously approved two measures that could help restart Ocean City’s long-stalled efforts to dredge bayfront lagoons and channels that are too shallow for boat traffic at low tide.
Both measures address the same problem: Ocean City is willing to spend money to dredge the bay, but it has no place to put the material it dredges.
Council passed a resolution to spend $849,227 to build a temporary road across the marshes to help truck away material from one disposal site that is filled to capacity. Council also approved spending another $226,000 for an engineering company to design experimental plans to spray a thin layer of dredged material across a wide area of marshes.
The road construction contract goes to Command Co Inc. of Egg Harbor City to provide truck access to a “confined disposal facility” (Site 83) in the marshes near Roosevelt Boulevard (34th Street). Work on the road possibly could begin early in the new year.
Command Co Inc. was the lowest of nine bidders and any potential contract would be contingent on approval of a pending Army Corps of Engineers permit for the project. Clearing material from Site 83 would make room for new dredging projects to resume, because the site already is approved by environmental regulators.
Council awarded a design contract to ACT Engineering Inc. to draft a wetlands restoration plan that would take advantage of a $2.6 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to experiment with a new technique to “create and stabilize wetlands” — essentially to spread a thin layer of dredged material over a wide area of the marshes.
Dredging engineer Ram Mohan of Anchor QEA, LLC, an ACT Engineering subcontractor, told Ocean City residents in a presentation this summer that spraying a thin layer of material (6 to 12 inches) like rain across the marshes would increase the island’s ability to withstand storms and improve wildlife habitat at the same time.
Part of the firm’s work will be to look at historic maps and images of the marshes to determine what can be restored. Three potential areas include the area south of Site 83 (potentially providing a better barrier to flooding along Roosevelt Boulevard), an area east of the Ocean City Municipal Airport, and Garrett’s Island (where the Route 52 Welcome Center is located).
Plans would be the first step in a process subject to extensive environmental permitting studies, and on Thursday Councilman Mike DeVlieger asked for assurance that any potential work would not affect ecotourism in Ocean City. He acknowledged that any project involving wetlands would receive “ridiculous amounts” of oversight from regulators.
Mayor Jay Gillian said the planning process would make sure “we get our facts straight and know exactly what’s going out there.” But he said experts are confident that the process can be beneficial to both wetlands and wildlife.
“While expensive, it’s money well-spent,” DeVlieger said.
ALSO ON COUNCIL AGENDA
The dredging-related resolutions were part of a full council agenda that included the following actions:
- $2.1 MILLION FOR ROADS: Council unanimously approved the first reading of a bond ordinance that authorizes the spending of $2.1 million ($1,995,000 of it borrowed) to continue the next phases of Ocean City’s ongoing plan for road and drainage improvements. Finance Director Frank Donato said most of the work will be between 14th and 16th Streets from West Avenue to the bay (including side streets). Utility companies are finishing work in the area, and paving could begin in late winter. Second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for Dec. 17.
- SHEDS: City Council gave final approval to an ordinance that eliminates a duplicate ordinance governing sheds.
- RENTAL UNIT FEES: City Council gave final approval to an ordinance eliminating mercantile license fees on units rented for more than 175 days. The fees will continue to exist for short-term rental units.
- EXTRA COSTS FOR DREDGING PLAN: City Council approved a resolution that adds $190,750 to a $787,500 contract for ACT Engineering to provide a comprehensive strategy to dredge Ocean City’s bayfront from tip to tip.
- EARLY MEETING ON DEC. 17: Council agreed to move the start time of its Dec. 17 meeting from 7 p.m. to 5 p.m. to avoid conflicts with various holiday celebrations.
- CRS RATING: Ocean City property owners can expect some savings on their flood insurance policies this spring as the island has moved up a level in the Community Rating System that governs premiums, according to Business Administrator Jim Mallon.