By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Ocean City intends to combine some old strategies, some new tricks and some serious money to try to tame two of the greatest problems on the barrier island: persistent flooding and sediment-choked lagoons.
City officials pledged Saturday to spend millions of dollars in coming years on an ambitious flood-mitigation program as well as a series of dredging projects to clear out the shallow lagoons that have become virtual mudflats in some places.
“The whole idea is quality of life,” Mayor Jay Gillian said. “We’re going to look at everything we can.”
Gillian spoke during back-to-back town hall meetings that focused on the city’s flood-control efforts and a five-year, $20 million dredging program that is methodically removing huge amounts of sediment from lagoons and channels along the bayfront.
“When you put up all that money, it shows people that we’re serious,” the mayor said in an interview during a break between the meetings. “We’re going to keep on looking at our options.”
Gillian noted that the city has been working in partnership with the state and federal governments for millions of dollars in grant money to help offset the cost of dredging and flood-mitigation projects.
For instance, the dredging program has benefited from more than $8 million in grants, he said. The city has also been aided by $7 million in grants to help pay for $37 million worth of drainage and road improvements over the last seven years to fight flooding.
“It’s been an amazing partnership with everyone,” Gillian said. “We’ll do what we can to keep it going.”
At the first meeting Saturday at the Ocean City Tabernacle, city representatives announced the next series of dredging projects that will get underway this fall. Gillian and City Council have pledged to deepen the bayfront lagoons along the entire island to help boaters, the marinas and property owners.
Areas next in line for dredging in the north end of town include the North Point Lagoon, the Waterfront Park and Marina at Second Street and the Bayside Center.
In the central part of the city, dredging will be done at the entrances to Snug Harbor, Glen Cove and Sunny Harbor. The entrance and midway in South Harbor, the bay end of Seventh Street and Bluefish Lagoon will also be dredged.
Carol Beske, founder of ACT Engineers, the city’s dredging and flooding consultant, said a new project will be tried to prevent muddy silt from building up at the mouth of Snug Harbor, an area chronically plagued by sediment.
The plan calls for building a 16-foot-deep “sediment trap” at Snug Harbor. Beske said the project is considered one of the first of its kind in the state and will be done in cooperation with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
She called Ocean City the “poster city of the state” for what are considered innovative dredging and flood-control projects.
Once they are dredged, the lagoons will be at least 4 feet deep and some will be 6 feet deep. The dredging will help free up boats that are often trapped at their slips at low tide because the lagoons and channels are clogged with mud and sediment.
Gillian said the dredging projects will have far-reaching effects on the city by increasing property values throughout town.
“We’ve freed up the back bays, the economy is thriving and our property owners are happy. When property values go up, everybody benefits,” he said in the interview.
Meanwhile, the city’s flood-control efforts will move ahead with a number of new initiatives under consideration. In the next five years, the city intends to spend $25 million for road, drainage and flood-mitigation projects.
Those plans include building more pumping stations, elevating and repaving the roads and installing new drainage pipes to replace some that are decades old, city officials said at the flood-mitigation meeting.
Similar projects have already been built in the city’s four wards, said Vince Bekier, director of the city’s Department of Community Development.
Bekier also previewed the city’s plan to create a “dedicated drainage team.” The drainage team will monitor and maintain the city’s pumping stations, check valves and drainage pipes to make sure all of them are in good working order, particularly during storms, Bekier told the audience.
Another speaker, Jeff Richter, director of engineering for ACT Engineers, described plans for new barriers or walls that may be built to literally hold back the floodwaters.
The walls, which would range from about 2½ feet to 4½ feet high, are being considered along the marshlands behind the flood-prone Ocean Aire condominiums on West Avenue between 43rd and 45th streets and around a portion of the Merion Park neighborhood in the south end of town.
“By creating a barrier there, we could best protect those properties,” Richter said of the proposed seawalls.
Marty and Diane Mozzo, who live on Westminster Avenue in Merion Park, said they are waiting for more improvements to help fight flooding in their neighborhood. They remain encouraged by some of the flood-control projects described during the meeting, but are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We’ll see when the rubber hits the road,” Marty Mozzo said.
Three pumping stations have already been installed by the city in Merion Park as part of a broader flood-mitigation project. The pumping stations help clear out floodwater from the neighborhood much faster, Diane Mozzo said.
“In the past, it could take forever,” she said.
Jim and Kathy Watson, who live in North Wales, Pa., are hoping the city can alleviate flooding in the area surrounding their Ocean City vacation duplex on 47th Street.
“It’s bad. We never had this problem before,” Jim Watson said, adding that the flooding has gotten progressively worse recently.
Kathy Watson noted that she needs to wear boots during high tide, especially when there is a full moon, to keep her feet dry while walking to the parking lot or the front door of their duplex.
“The storm drains just can’t handle it,” she said of the flooding.
The Watsons sat in the audience during the flood-control meeting to find out whether any of the city’s proposed projects will help their neighborhood.
“I’m encouraged, but I still have to see what happens,” Jim Watson said after the meeting.