By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Ocean City plans to spend about $25 million in the next five years as part of a comprehensive flood-control strategy to protect neighborhoods that are particularly vulnerable to stormwater.
The plan includes new pumping stations, road construction, drainage systems, berms, retention walls and other measures to prevent stormwater from inundating parts of the low-lying island.
Mayor Jay Gillian and other city representatives outlined the plan during a virtual town hall meeting Saturday that lasted one hour and 40 minutes and included members of the public participating online or by teleconference.
“Flooding is an issue that affects everybody in Ocean City in some way, and the city remains fully committed to providing relief to all areas of the island. We will never be able to stop all flooding, but I believe we can make a significant difference in the quality of life for those who live in flood-prone neighborhoods,” Gillian said in a statement.
He assured the public that the city’s flood-control plan is an “ongoing mission” that will include maintaining and improving upon the projects that are built.
“To keep it simple, if you don’t take care of your car or house, if you don’t maintain them, then they’re going to fall apart,” Gillian said in opening remarks during the meeting that underscored the importance of the city staying on top of the flooding projects.
Video of town hall meeting courtesy of Ocean City and Martin Fiedler of Just Right TV Productions.
City officials said flood-control measures built in recent years in the Merion Park section, the central part of town and the north end have been successful, setting the stage for the next round of projects.
“Overall, what we’ve prepared is a plan to address all of the flood-mitigation projects over the next five years. We’ve done much already. I’d venture to say more than any other barrier island,” City Business Administrator George Savastano said.
Savastano emphasized that to get to this point, the city has invested thousands of hours of work for the planning, design and construction of flooding projects.
“The next several years will involve many more thousands of hours and a considerable expenditure of funds. We anticipate the overall program that I’ve described to cost in the neighborhood of $25 million,” he said.
The flood-control measures will not jeopardize the funding for the city’s proposed $35 million public safety building or other projects that are part of the city’s overall capital plan. Moreover, they will not result in any “significant spikes” in local tax rates, Savastano said.
“This is an ambitious undertaking. We believe it is achievable,” he said.
Major projects planned in the next five years include:
- Ninth to 18th streets, where new pumping stations, pipes and drainage systems will be built. The project is being designed, with construction scheduled between the fall of 2021 and the spring of 2022.
- The area of West 17th Street will also receive new pumping stations, drainage improvements and pipes. The city is coordinating the project with New Jersey American Water Co., which is planning to make improvements to its water and sewer system from the fall of 2021 to spring 2022. The city will follow with its flood-mitigation project at West 17th Street in fall 2022.
- The Merion Park neighborhood in the south end will undergo more flood-mitigation improvements beginning in 2022 to add to the pumping stations and drainage upgrades that have already been built there.
- The corridor between 18th to 26th streets, where new pumping stations, drainage systems and pipes will be installed starting in the fall of 2023.
- The Ocean City Homes area between 52nd and 56th streets will receive new pumping stations, road improvements and berms and walls to hold back stormwater. Construction is expected to begin sometime between 2022 and 2024.
- The West Avenue corridor from 36th to 52nd streets will also be protected from flooding with the construction of new stormwater pipes, berms, retention walls and elevated roads. Construction is estimated to begin sometime between 2023 and 2025.
Local residents who spoke during a question-and-answer session during the town hall meeting thanked city officials for the projects, but also expressed their concerns about flooding that seems to be getting increasingly worse over the years.
Homeowner Jerry Rainey, who lives on Waterway Road, said he deals with flooding several times a month at his house. He complained that it takes” forever” for floodwaters to finally recede.
“I think there’s a lot that could be done to improve the road flooding itself,” he said.
Gillian responded to Rainey’s comments by telling him that Waterway Road is “absolutely on the radar” for the city’s flood-control plan.
Rainey also urged the city to consider starting a program to help private property owners to fix or replace deteriorated bulkheads. He said that when homeowners have deteriorated bulkheads, it undermines the stormwater protection that comes from the city’s new bulkheads on public property.
Albert Grimes, who lives on 26th Street near Haven Avenue, said stormwater gets knee deep at times at his home.
“We have to wait to get into our house,” he said.
Grimes also said that groundwater contributes to the flooding in his neighborhood.
Savastano told Grimes that the area around 26th Street “is going to be a challenge” until pumping stations are installed because it is one of the lowest lying areas in town.
Trevor Jackson, who has lived on Haven Avenue near 25th Street for one year, said longtime homeowners in his neighborhood have told him that flooding has been getting progressively worse.
“We’re completely trapped at any given moment,” Jackson said of the stormwater.
He said he is particularly worried that elderly residents in his neighborhood will be stranded in their homes by flooding, with no way for the city’s police or fire departments to come rescue them.
Gillian, though, assured Jackson that the city’s public safety crews are “the best and will always get to you.”
Another resident, Daria Gallen, who lives on 14th Street near the corner of Haven Avenue, said that stormwater is so deep in her neighborhood that her daughter must take different routes to ride to school on her bike.
“It’s just getting really dangerous,” Gallen said.
She added, “We’re talking three, four days a week that we’re going through this.”
Gillian closed the meeting by stressing that he and City Council are committed to easing the flooding problems across town. He encouraged residents to contact his office or their Council representatives to help them out with flooding.
“We’re going to get a base line and then we’re going to enhance the quality of life in Ocean City,” Gillian said of the flood-control plan.