The South Will Rise in Fight for More Sand
Property owners rally in support of beach replenishment for the south end of Ocean City.
Equipment will arrive later this month to pump millions of cubic yards of sand to restore Ocean City's eroded beaches. But the multimillion-dollar project will stop miles short of Ocean City's south end — where Superstorm Sandy knocked dunes flat, buried streets in sand and damaged homes from beach to bay.
South-end property owners are asking, "Why?"
Why would the federal, state and local governments go to the extreme expense of bringing the equipment and work crews to Ocean City only to leave the job unfinished?
A group of owners are rallying neighbors to organize a fight — an effort to lobby federal, state and local officials to include the south end in the beach-replenishment project before the dredges leave this spring.
The effort includes a letter-writing campaign to legislators, a plan to press City Council members at a Feb. 14 meeting to take action and the creation of a new website to share information.
"If that dredge leaves without doing the south end, that is inexcusable," said Jeff Monihan, a former real estate agency owner and current beachfront property owner.
Monihan's home on the 5600 block of Central Avenue saw $30,000 worth of damage.
He said Sunday that he can't understand why the city would spend money to build an emergency berm and truck sand in to shore up a dune system, but not bond for an expansion to the beach-widening project.
"Why won't they do that?" he asked. "A third of the island is incredibly exposed to the next nor'easter ... All we want is what the rest of the island gets."
The rest of the island is part of a federally approved project that brings the Army Corps of Engineers back every three years (if Congress approves funding) to widen Ocean City beaches from the north end of the island to 36th Street.
The federal government pays for 65 percent of the program, while the state Department of Environmental Protection picks up the other 35 percent. Of the state's portion, Ocean City is required to contribute 25 percent. That leaves Ocean City responsible for only 8.75 percent of the total project cost.
In August 2012, City Council voted to approve $617,500 in borrowing to pay for its share of the $10 million beach-widening project for the north end and downtown beaches scheduled to start in February. On Jan. 24 (2013), the city administration announced that federal disaster relief funds would allow an expansion of the project to include more sand and an expanded project scope within the same federally approved area between the north end and 36th Street.
The south-end property owners have three opportunities to widen their beaches while the equipment is still in Ocean City.
- A federal project: The area between 36th and 59th streets is on a separate application for beach replenishment already approved by the Army Corps of Engineers. The project has been awaiting Congressional funding, and the approval of more the $50 billion in disaster relief could be an opportunity.
- A project funded by the state and city: The state would have the option to pay for the south-end project with the city — something that happened in 1995 ($1,233,000) and 2001 ($1.8 million) when the state provided funds for the federal Army Corps to continue work beyond 36th Street to replenish south-end beaches (see second PDF for project history).
- A project funded by the city: "We want the city to be ready to fund it themselves if they have to," Monihan said.
City Council last month approved the first reading of an ordinance that appropriates $2.7 million to rebuild dunes and replace dune fencing and dune plantings for the length of the island. The plan includes trucking in 50,000 cubic yards of sand to help restore dunes between 50th and 59th streets.
But south-end owners worry that without beach replenishment, the dunes will not survive. They watched their beach disappear at high tides in summer 2012 —with the crowds driven to the edge of the dunes to find a place to sit.
Anthony Pinnie, a West Avenue resident, is part of a regular crowd of beachgoers joining the effort to fight for more sand.
"The 50s and the south end are for beach purists," Pinnie said of neighbors who don't have a downtown, a boardwalk or a bayside lagoon nearby. "The beach is a little more vital. They come for the beach."
Pinnie is part of a group encouraging neighbors to speak publicly at the 7 p.m. Feb. 14 City Council meeting at the Ocean City Free Public Library and to write letters to local, state and federal elected officials.
"This is the right time," Pinnie said.