By Donald Wittkowski
City Council approved $9 million in funding Thursday night for a series of road, drainage and dredging projects that will get underway in the fall.
The bond ordinance includes $4.2 million to rebuild roads and alleys, $1.8 million for drainage improvements and $3 million for dredging.
The projects are part of an ongoing strategy to protect the island from flooding, replace aging drainage pipes and clear out lagoons along the bay backs that are choked with sediment, said Frank Donato, the city’s chief financial officer.
Donato told the Council members that the projects are consistent with Ocean City’s capital plan, a sweeping blueprint to upgrade the public infrastructure.
Construction work is expected to begin in the quieter fall months to avoid disruptions during the peak summer vacation season.
The road, alley and drainage projects go hand in hand, Donato said. They will be scattered across the city as part of an aggressive program to ease flooding throughout the low-lying barrier island. Roads will be elevated to make them more flood-resistant.
Aging drainage pipes that date back decades will be replaced. In an earlier interview, Donato said that pipes in some parts of the city could be close to nearly a century old.
Meanwhile, dredging is scheduled to start in the fall at North Point Lagoon at the end of Bay Avenue in the Gardens section of town. The same area is also known as the Gardens Lagoon.
In the past three years, the city has been spending millions of dollars to methodically clear out channels and lagoons along the back bays that are laden with mud and silt.
The dredging program planned for this fall also includes maintenance projects that will improve tidal flow and keep sediment from building up at the mouths of other lagoons. Maintenance will be done at lagoons throughout the city, Donato said.
In other business at Thursday’s Council meeting, City Business Administrator George Savastano strongly criticized Ocean City’s waste-hauling contractor for falling behind on trash and recycling collection.
“They are still not caught up as of today,” Savastano said of the company, Gold Medal Environmental.
Savastano called the delays with trash and recycling collection “completely unacceptable” and noted that the city may consider legal or contractual penalties against the company.
“They don’t want to get in our crosshairs, and now they are,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Mayor Jay Gillian posted a statement on the city’s website that also criticized Gold Medal for “major delays.”
“The administration is doing everything in its power to compel the company to meet its contractual obligations,” Gillian said.
Gold Medal was unable to respond to the “exceptionally high” amount of trash and recycling stemming from the huge influx of visitors for the Fourth of July weekend, the mayor and Savastano said.
“We don’t accept those excuses,” Savastano said. “We’re going to continue to do whatever we can to compel compliance with the contract.”
Hoping to catch up, the company has added more trash and recycling trucks to nearly double the size of its fleet compared to earlier this week, city officials said.
Savastano noted that he has received assurances from Gold Medal that the company will be ready for the city’s Night In Venice celebration this Saturday. The annual boat parade along the bay traditionally attracts tens of thousands of spectators and is considered Ocean City’s premier summer event.
Also Thursday, Council met in closed session to discuss the possibility of making a second attempt to acquire a large tract of land bordered by Simpson and Haven avenues between 16th and 17th streets. The site formerly served as the location of a now-defunct Chevrolet dealership.
City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said the city has not yet started formal negotiations with the property owners this time around.
“There’s no deal yet. We’ve agreed to discuss it, but we haven’t formally started negotiations,” McCrosson said in an interview before heading into closed session to brief Council on the property.
The land owners, brothers Jerry and Harry Klause, of Klause Enterprises, were granted Ocean City planning board approval earlier in the year to develop 21 single-family homes on the site.
City officials, in their attempts to buy the property, want to preserve the land as public space to protect it from densely packed housing construction that would add to the town’s overdevelopment.
The city tried to buy the same property last year from Klause Enterprises for $9 million, but the deal fell through when the community group Fairness In Taxes circulated a petition drive for a voter referendum to block the purchase.
FIT objected to the proposed purchase price, arguing that it was dramatically higher than what the city should pay. Dave Hayes, FIT’s president, said in public remarks to Council on Thursday that his organization “completely supports” the city’s attempt to buy the land if it can acquire the site for a lower price.
The mayor recently announced his intention to try to buy the property again. He ordered a new set of property appraisals as the first step in possible negotiations with the Klause brothers.
In the meantime, the city has reached a deal with Klause Enterprises to lease the land for $9,000 for public parking over the summer. The site will be used by the city through Sept. 9 for free parking.
The property will help provide parking during the busy summer months for the adjacent Ocean City Community Center, which houses the library and the aquatic and fitness center, and the Palmer Field recreation complex.