By Donald Wittkowski
An engineering consultant is proposing an alternative disposal site that would allow Ocean City to continue with its multimillion-dollar dredging program in 2017, but already there is resistance from surrounding homeowners.
Under the plan, muddy sediment that is dredged from the shallow lagoons would be piped to the proposed site on Shelter Road off Tennessee Avenue before it is hauled away by trucks for permanent disposal at other facilities off the island.
The Shelter Road location was the topic of a nearly two-hour town meeting Saturday called by Mayor Jay Gillian to gather public input. Some members of the public supported the proposed site, but others urged the mayor to look elsewhere.
Gillian assured the approximately 100 people in the audience at the Stainton Senior Center that he is open to their suggestions and has not yet made a decision whether to move forward with the proposal by the city’s dredging consultant, ACT Engineers.
“Believe me, I will change my mind if it’s for the greater benefit of the community,” he said.
Gillian has proposed a $20 million dredging program for 2016, 2017 and 2018 to clear out the sediment-choked lagoons along the back bays. The 2017 program is now at risk because of a lawsuit that has caused delays and forced the city to consider other options.
Some lagoons are so clogged that boat owners and fishermen are often trapped at their slips and can only travel on the waterways at high tide, Gillian said.
“Our back bays are choked. The fishing is horrible. To have to go out at high tide is a disgrace,” he said.
Gillian received a round of applause after finishing his remarks. He repeatedly stressed that he is willing to listen to any concerns about the proposed Shelter Road site. At the same time, he asserted that the lagoons must be dredged to protect public safety, improve boating traffic and prevent bayfront property values from falling.
Opposition at the meeting came mainly from residents of the Ocean Reef condominium development adjacent to Shelter Road. They complained that the proposed disposal site would create excessive noise, would bring truck traffic into their neighborhood and would lower their property values.
“How long is that monstrosity going to be there? You’re going to devalue the properties we live in,” Joanne Parsels, an Ocean Reef resident, said to representatives of ACT Engineers while they gave a presentation on the plan.
Jack Gallagher, president of the Ocean Reef Condominium Association, criticized the ACT plan on several fronts. He argued it would drastically reduce property values, could possibly harm the environment and simply “isn’t going to work.”
“Don’t make the problem worse by destroying the value of hundreds of properties,” Gallagher said of the homes surrounding the Shelter Road site.
Other residents, though, urged the city to move ahead with the plan. One of them called it only a “temporary inconvenience.”
Cape May County Freeholder E. Marie Hayes, who has a lagoonfront home in Ocean City, said the dredging project is critically important for protecting property values and the local economy. She said she sympathized with the concerns raised by Ocean Reef homeowners, but added that the city’s choked lagoons are a broader threat to property values.
“My property is being affected and so is yours,” Hayes told the audience.
Ocean City must find a temporary site for dredge spoils because work on its main disposal facility has been delayed by a legal battle involving a company that was denied a contract for the project and has sued the town.
Although the courts have ruled in the city’s favor so far, ongoing appeals in the lawsuit by Wickberg Marine Contracting Inc. make it doubtful that the main disposal facility, known as Site 83 and located near the 34th Street Bridge, will be ready in time for the 2017 dredging program, officials said.
Representatives of ACT Engineers assured the audience at Saturday’s meeting that they scoured the city for other possible sites before coming up with Shelter Road.
“We have looked at almost every square inch of the island,” said Carol Beske, president of public involvement for ACT Engineers.
Like the mayor, Beske stressed that no final decisions have been made about Shelter Road. At this point, it is only a proposed site that gives the city another option if Site 83 is not available for 2017, she said.
“There’s nothing we want to hide here,” Beske said.
Without the Shelter Road site, a series of dredging projects planned for 2017 are threatened. They include the Carnival, Venetian and South Harbor lagoons bordered by Tennessee Avenue and Shelter Road and the Bluefish and Clubhouse lagoons off Waterway Road, officials said.
ACT Engineers has proposed running a temporary pipeline to bring the dredge spoils to the Shelter Road site. The sediment would then be hauled away by trucks to permanent disposal facilities outside Ocean City. It would not be stored at Shelter Road.
Eric Rosina, project manager for ACT Engineers, defended the filtering method that would be used to handle the dredge spoils at Shelter Road.
Known as a “mechanical de-watering process,” it would not cause the type of noise or environmental harm feared by the Ocean Reef residents, Rosina said. He noted that the same method has been successfully used for a state dredging project at Shark River Inlet in Monmouth County.
Rosina showed the audience members two video clips of the dredging and filtering work at Shark River Inlet in hopes of alleviating their fears about any excessive noise. During the videos, the loudest noise heard at Shark River was the beeping sound made by back-up alarms from the construction vehicles.
Rosina also said that the dredge spoils would be tested every day for possible environmental contamination. Trucks would arrive at the site each day to haul the material away, preventing Shelter Road from becoming a long-term storage facility for the gooey sediment, he added.
Pointing to a graphic that showed just how clogged some of the lagoons have become, Rosina said there is virtually no time to waste if the city wants to get the dredging program underway for 2017.
“The time is now. It’s become a necessity,” he said.