By Donald Wittkowski
Make no mistake about it, Billy Griscom probably knows as well as anyone just how terribly clogged Ocean City’s lagoons have become over the years.
He’s no scientist or engineer or environmentalist. He’s the guy operating a gigantic yellow excavator that is scooping tons of black muck out of the lagoons and channels every day.
“They’re bad. They’re extremely bad,” Griscom said, shaking his head to emphasize his point.
Griscom and his co-workers at Scarborough Marine Group are removing an estimated 700 to 1,000 cubic yards of muddy sediment per day out of the Venetian Lagoon while dredging the boat slips of private homeowners along Bayshore Drive, just off the bay end of 18th Street.
Mayor Jay Gillian announced in early February that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has extended the dredging season to March 31, giving homeowners an extra month to have their boat slips cleaned out.
Dredging firms such as Scarborough Marine Group hope to capitalize on the extra month of work by drumming up more business in Ocean City. The company has erected a new billboard along Roosevelt Boulevard in Marmora, just outside Ocean City, to advertise its dredging service.
“We’re able to take on additional homeowners to work into our schedule. The date helps us a little bit. We’re planning to be in Ocean City a little longer,” Sean Scarborough, owner of the dredging firm, said of the deadline extension to March 31.
Linda Rothermel, who lives on Bayshore Drive, banded together with some of her neighbors to hire Scarborough Marine to dredge their boat slips. Rothermel, who owns three slips that she rents out for the summer boating summer, is having two of them dredged for a total of $7,000.
The lagoon is a muddy morass at low tide, trapping boats at their slips. Boaters have to wait until high tide to reach the channels, Rothermel explained.
“At low tide, it’s all muck,” she said. “It’s all clogged up at the end of the lagoon and people can’t get out.”
Private boat slip dredging is an offshoot of Ocean City’s proposed five-year, $20 million dredging program. The city has already dredged several lagoons and channels as it methodically works its way along the entire bayfront.
Boat slip owners are able to piggyback on the city’s dredging permits for their own projects. Under the voluntary program, property owners still have to pay for dredging their slips, but the process relieves them of some of the costs and headaches of doing the work on their own, including finding a disposal site for the sediment.
Rothermel initially was reluctant to have her slips dredged, but realized that it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to collaborate with the city on the dredging permit. Now, she’s having Scarborough Marine dig down 3 feet while dredging the sediment around her slips.
“It’s bad, really bad,” Rothermel said, echoing the comments of Scarborough Marine’s excavator operator, Billy Griscom.
The mayor has made the dredging program a major part of the city’s capital improvement plan. He believes dredging will preserve property values, improve public safety, help the boat owners and marinas and protect the environment.
Ocean City’s multifaceted dredging program is being touted as a model for all New Jersey shore towns dealing with the dangerous problem of sediment-choked waterways.
“Ocean City has been a leader in coming up with innovative solutions to bayside dredging, and all coastal towns will benefit from our work,” Gillian said in his Feb. 8 “Mayor’s Message” posted on the city website.
Scarborough Marine, meanwhile, has been dredging private boat slips at different lagoons along the city’s back bays since late November. Sediment pulled from the lagoons is trucked to a nursery in Corbin City to replenish the soil there. It is also blended with cement for road construction and parking lots.
Once the sediment is scooped out of the water by an excavator, it is placed in large floating containers called “hoppers” and then pushed to shore by a boat. Another excavator-like piece of machinery on land is used to load the material from a large container into watertight dump trucks.
Scarborough Marine has secured exclusive rights to a site at the bay end of 18th Street for its dredging operations the remainder of this season and next year, too.
Josh “Doc” Dougherty, manager of Scarborough Marine, explained that the company hopes to use the remaining few weeks of this year’s dredging season to gain more exposure in Ocean City and line up business for 2020.
“Being here on 18th Street is key. It’s a big spot,” Dougherty said. “Everybody will see us for 2020.”