City Council voted unanimously Thursday (Jan. 22) to spend $5 million this year to dredge lagoons and bayside channels that are too shallow for boat traffic.
The commitment represents half of what Ocean City spent on all capital projects last year and matches the total spent during the entire four years of the last mayoral administration, according to Ocean City Finance Director Frank Donato.
“They better be dredging by July 1,” Mayor Jay Gillian said. “My directive has been crystal clear. I have zero tolerance for failure.”
The urgency stems from the frustrations of a bayside boating community that can’t navigate Ocean City’s lagoons and back bay channels for hours on either side of low tide.
The City Council action is part of an effort to relaunch dredging operations that were interrupted by lack of a place to dump the dredge spoils. An approved site near the 34th Street causeway was filled to capacity before an outside contractor could complete a 2012 job between 15th and 34th streets. All dredging has been at a standstill since then. (Read more: Council to Vote on Paying Full Price for Unfinished Dredging Work and All Dredged Up With No Place to Go in Ocean City.)
The measure that the council approved on Thursday is the first reading of a bond ordinance that authorizes the borrowing of $4.75 million (of the $5 million) to complete the dredging. A public hearing and second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for Feb. 12.
Gillian’s administration has committed funding to dredging operations but has been stymied by regulations governing where dredged material can be deposited.
The bond ordinance authorizes the “preparation and emptying of one or more confined disposal facility sites” in addition to “permitting, engineering and dredging of lagoons and bayfront areas.”
The city will open bids Feb. 3 from companies that can empty “Site 83,” the location in the marshes near 34th Street that is filled to capacity.
City Council in December approved a shared services agreement that would allow Ocean City to truck material to Wildwood to help cap a landfill. Ocean City would pay Wildwood $14 a cubic yard to accept the material.
Ocean City Business Administrator Jim Mallon said that the contractor likely will have to move dredged material from Site 83 by barge to a place where trucks can transport it to Wildwood.
Without seeing the bids, Mallon said he couldn’t estimate what portion of the $5 million will go toward emptying the spoils site.
He also said the city is still developing a plan on which lagoons or bay areas will be dredged first.
The city has permission to use a small spoils site near the Ninth Street Bridge that possibly could accommodate dredged material from Snug Harbor and Glen Cove — the lagoons on either side of Ninth Street that are completely dry at low tide.
The city also plans to dedicate about $3.9 million ($2.6 million of it from a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Grant) to use “thin layer disposal” of dredged material to restore wetlands.
State environmental regulations prevent dredging operations before July 1 — a measure created to protect “winter flounder,” a species City Council President Tony Wilson said he’s never seen in his 45 years in Ocean City.
But Wilson said he’s excited to see a commitment on dredging.
“It’s something I’ve been working on since the day I got in office,” he said.