By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
James Dambach recalls the time that surfers went zipping by in front of his Ocean City house. Another time, there were kids floating on inflatable rafts.
Dambach, 67, a retired Philadelphia police lieutenant, doesn’t live in an oceanfront or bayfront home. His house at 14th Street and Haven Avenue is landlocked.
Most of the time, it’s landlocked. During storms, Haven Avenue is swamped with floodwater – so much so that kids occasionally float by on rafts or surfers are pulled on their boards while tethered to pickup trucks driving down the street, he said.
Dambach was among a dozen residents who attended an hour-long public meeting Saturday organized by Third Ward Councilman Jody Levchuk to discuss local issues. When Levchuk opened the floor to residents, they urged him and other city officials to solve the flooding problems that occur on Haven Avenue and West Avenue in the area between 14th and 17th streets.
Levchuk, who took notes during the meeting, repeatedly pledged to the residents that he will work with Mayor Jay Gillian’s administration to help ease the flooding.
“I want to do my best in representing my neighborhood,” he said.
Two senior members of Gillian’s administration also attended the meeting, Vince Bekier, head of the city’s Operations and Engineering Department, and Michael Allegretto, aide to the mayor.
Bekier and Allegretto stressed that the city is well aware of the flooding problems and is planning to fix them with a new project that will include stormwater pumping stations.
But Bekier and Allegretto asked residents for their patience, saying they could not yet give a timetable when the project will start because it is still being planned and designed by engineers.
“Remember, there’s flooding all over the island, not just on 14th Street,” Bekier said. “We do the best job we can.”
Bekier described plans for a stormwater pumping system and possible road and bulkhead improvements to reduce flooding. The first phase of the project would stretch from Ninth to 18th streets between West Avenue and the bay.
“We are in the process of doing something,” Bekier told the residents.
The second phase of the project would extend from 18th Street to 26th Street, where it would link up with pumping stations and other flood-control improvements previously built by the city between 26th and 34th streets.
“We are willing to spend this money to do these projects,” Allegretto said.
Dambach, who lives with wife, Maryjane, splits his time between his home in Philadelphia and his Ocean City vacation retreat at 14th and Haven. He has owned the Ocean City home for 20 years. When he first moved to Ocean City, flooding was nominal, but has become progressively worse, he said.
“Over the last 20 years, it’s getting way out of control and going halfway up the street,” he said of flooding in his neighborhood.
Dambach has cellphone photos and video documenting some of the worst bouts of flooding, including the time there were surfers on the street being pulled behind pickup trucks. Another video shows him carrying his dog through deep floodwater.
“My dog couldn’t go in the street. It was ridiculous having to carry my dog through the flooding,” he said in an interview after the meeting.
Dambach explained that Haven Avenue also has flooding during heavy rain and high tides, not just during coastal storms.
Jean Rynkiewicz, a resident who lives at 14th Street and West Avenue, also has cellphone photos of flooding in front of her house. One photo shows her husband, Bill, placing sandbags in front of their home to protect it from rising floodwater in October 2018, shortly after the couple bought the property.
“Look at the water. It was terrible, the worst we’ve ever seen,” Rynkiewicz said in an interview while looking at the photos.
During the Third Ward meeting, Rynkiewicz expressed her frustration with the flooding by asking Levchuk, Bekier and Allegretto, “Has anything been done?”
All three of them assured Rynkiewicz and the other residents in the audience that the city is serious about tackling the problem, but noted it will take time to complete the planning, designs and construction.
“I understand the frustration about the length of time it takes to fix some things,” Levchuk said.
In the meantime, Levchuk said he will continue to travel along 14th Street every day, on his way to work at his Boardwalk businesses, until the flooding problems are fixed by the city.
“I know the city cares,” he said. “There are people here who care and very much want to fix it.”
Some residents questioned whether deteriorated bulkheads on private property along the bay could be contributing to the flooding.
Levchuk said he plans to speak with City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson about the possibility of a new ordinance requiring private bulkheads to be maintained to certain standards to help prevent flooding.