By Donald Wittkowski
As Ocean City residents know all too well, one of the consequences of living on a low-lying barrier island is the epic battle against flooding.
For the flood-prone neighborhoods between 26th and 34th streets in the midsection of town, it has been a particularly difficult struggle.
However, the largest drainage project in the city’s history is about to get underway to ease flooding in a 24-block area of the Third Ward stretching from 26th Street to 34th Street between West Avenue and Bay Avenue.
“Certainly, it won’t stop all flooding. But for the property owners, it will be a substantial improvement,” city spokesman Doug Bergen said.
A.E. Stone Inc., the city’s construction contractor, is expected to begin work by the end of the week, after finishing up preconstruction plans for traffic control and safety, Bergen said.
Costing $6.6 million, the project will include a series of road, drainage and pumping improvements to bring relief to an area that is vulnerable to street flooding even during routine rainstorms, let alone full-blown nor’easters.
The contractor will repave roads, install new drainage pipes to replace some that are 40 to 60 years old and build new pumping stations to help channel floodwater off the streets and into the bay.
Bergen said the first part of the project includes the installation of new pipes that will cross Bay Avenue, between 28th and 33rd streets, to flush storm water into the bay through an outfall pipe.
The city originally planned to finish the project by the start of the busy summer tourism season, but delays caused by a court fight may push the work into July, Bergen said.
The courts twice ruled in the city’s favor when a losing contractor challenged the award of the contract to A.E. Stone, of Egg Harbor Township. Although the courts ultimately green-lighted the project, the legal battle stalled the work by about two months.
“For people like me who are accustomed to doing business in the private sector, the obstacles to public projects are extremely frustrating. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as mayor, it’s that nothing is quick or easy,” Mayor Jay Gillian said of the construction delays.
But Gillian urged local residents to be patient, noting that they are “invested in the success of this project.”
“I’m confident that any short-term inconveniences from construction will be outweighed by the long-term success of the drainage improvements,” the mayor said in his weekly address posted on the city’s website.
As construction continues, A.E. Stone, will provide weekly updates on where the work will take place. They will be posted on the city’s website at ocnj.us/projectupdate. Visitors to the website may also sign up for email alerts by checking the “project updates” box on the email notification page.
Gillian has called the flood-mitigation project the largest of its kind ever built in the city. It represents the latest effort by the barrier island community to upgrade its aging infrastructure in the never-ending battle against storm flooding.
Drainage projects citywide are a centerpiece of the city’s $112 million, five-year capital plan. The capital plan serves as a blueprint for an array of construction projects proposed between 2017 and 2021.