By Tim Kelly
The Bobby Barr era is off to a bang-up start in Ocean City’s 4th Ward.
Barr, a newcomer to the Ocean City Council hosted a nearly packed house of approximately 100 residents Saturday in the Ocean City Library’s Chris Maloney Lecture Hall. His ward is the largest and most geographically diverse in the city, with a list of issues just as diverse. Residents were not shy about airing their concerns. They were nevertheless effusive in praise of their new councilman.
“He had a strong knowledge of the ward and the issues,” Joe Fertch said. “If somebody referred to some obscure alley, he knew exactly what and where they were talking about.”
Barr won a three-way race for his council seat in May and said meetings for his constituents would take place on the third Saturday of every other month. The event was co-hosted by At-Large Councilmen Keith Hartzell and Pete Madden, who shared with Barr the cost of a $2,000 mailing, inviting residents of the Ward to attend the event. Karen Bergman, the other At-Large Council representative could not attend due to a previous commitment.
“We can’t do anything about the issues people have unless they tell us about them, said Barr. “And we aren’t doing our jobs as elected officials if we aren’t listening to their concerns and doing everything in our power to address them.”
Flooding and drainage topped the list of concerns voice by residents of the 4th Ward’s flood-prone areas. Enforcement issues received significant attention as well, including speeding on neighborhood streets, trespassing on the dunes, even leashing dogs on local beaches.
“I am terrified of dogs,” one of the residents said. “They sense my fear and come right at me. All I can see is their teeth. I can’t walk on the beach because of it.”
By far the most prevalent voices brought before Barr, Hartzell and Madden had to do with flooding and drainage. Barr opened the session by outlining the City’s plan for an $18.9 million bond ordinance to pay for pumping stations, drainage pipes, paving and elevation of streets.
“Shovels will be in the ground in December, and weather permitting we will complete the work in June,” he said.
Barr said the project was the opening phase of a larger city-wide strategy to alleviate flooding but that financial limitations required the work to take place in stages. Bulkhead repair was another aspect of the flooding and drainage issue, he said, citing the 55th St. bulkhead which is in need of work.
“Piecemeal is not the way to go, it has got to be part of an aggressive long term strategy, but there is only so much money to go around,” he said. “There is much more work to do.”
Barr said four pumping stations — on Bay Avenue at 28th, at the Municipal Airport, at Bayland Avenue and at 30th and Haven, would be built to help deal with flooding in the 4th Ward. Drainage pipes would be replaced between 28th and 33rd streets,” he said.
“I have spoken to the Mayor, (project engineers) Baker Engineering, and the County, and we are confident this work will produce significant improvement for the (surrounding flood-prone areas in the ward) and not just those streets (in the immediate area of the new drainage pipes and pumping stations),” said Barr.
Resident Jack McGonigle said many of the storm culverts in the Ward were clogged, further contributing to the flooding and drainage problems.
Hartzell urged the formation of a neighborhood committee to provide input for any construction or repair projects. “One thing my father, who was an engineer taught me is to talk to the people. All of the studies and planning really benefit from the knowledge of the people who live with the situation,” he said. “That is an important ingredient.”
One issue the City is powerless to address, at least at present, Barr said, is the re-decking of the 34th St. Bridge, dependent on the state Transportation Trust Fund. The fund is currently unavailable, and may stall the project, Barr noted.
One of the residents urged Barr to pressure the county to continue and to work on the numerous potholes on 34th Street, a county road. “That is a gateway road to the city,” he said.
The meeting also touched on several interest groups that had been at odds: the pickleball community and the tennis community, sailors and surfers, bike-riders and drivers.
“We have to listen to everyone and take a collaborative approach,” said Hartzell.
Resident Chuck Deal called the session “the best meeting I’ve been a part of,” in the ward. “I like the fact that everyone got a chance to be heard, and that we received a lot of good information.”
When it was suggested Barr “survived” his first ward meeting, the new Councilman broke into a broad smile. “I did, I did” he said. “It feels great. It is great to hear from the residents, get a pulse on their feelings and to help people,” he said. “That is what public service is supposed to be about.”