North-End Beach Project Dodges a Big Delay
An emergency City Council action allows work to continue.
The massive beach replenishment project underway on the north end of Ocean City almost came to an abrupt halt on Thursday as officials debated whether dredging crews had permission to be on the beach.
City Council passed an emergency resolution authorizing the city to take control of a beachfront lot, where crews were going to have to stop, dismantle an underwater pipeline and reconnect it down the beach on the other side of the lot.
The delay and reconfiguration could have cost Ocean City as much as $2 million and left a block-long gap in the beach-widening project, according to City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson.
McCrosson briefly dashed out of Thursday's meeting immediately after Council passed the resolution to let the dredging supervisors know that work could continue.
At issue is a lot known as Block 72.01, Lot 1 on a tax map (see attached PDF for the map and documentation on the resolution). Ocean City residents and visitors would know the lot as the actual beach between the jetties at Morningside Road and North Street.
The paper lot was not at issue during several previous beach replenishment projects, but the state Department of Environmental Protection is requiring Ocean City to obtain new easements in many areas, giving permission for work to proceed.
The lot in question is presumed to be owned by the City of Ocean City, but the city has been unable to find deeds that would confirm the ownership, according to McCrosson.
So the city invoked a statute that allows governing bodies on the Atlantic Ocean or Delaware Bay to take control of property to repair, restore or replace protective barriers if there is a threat to life and property.
If it's determined that the city does not own the lot, property owners could later sue for compensation from the "taking" of their land. The city informed adjacent property owners that they could possibly be entitled to just compensation.
But McCrosson said measurable damages to beachfront owners from widening the beaches in front of their properties, if any, would likely be smaller than the multimillion-dollar cost of a delay in the project.
Jeanne and Vince Hubach, owners of the Beach Road property where the North End Beach Grill is located and on the landward side of the property in question, spoke against passage of the resolution during the public comment period of the City Council meeting.
"It will only lead to more taxpayer-funded litigation," Jeanne Hubach said.
The Hubachs have not signed an easement allowing work on their property.
Vince Hubach said he is not opposed to beach replenishment and that he "just wants to see the city follow rules."
He said he wants information on dune heights and access.
Their property was the only place on the island where the ocean reached the streets during the nor'easter that hit Ocean City on March 6 and 7. City crews were unable to extend a protective berm in front of it.
The beach replenishment project will work around their property on the upland side of the beach, but the resolution will allow dredging crews to proceed in an uninterrupted line southward.