Voters Won't Get Say on Hardwood for Boardwalk
Some citizens asked City Council to consider a nonbinding referendum in the November election.
City Council showed no enthusiasm Thursday for revisiting a long and cantankerous environmental debate about using South American hardwood to rebuild a better Boardwalk.
About 15 citizens — a mix of Boardwalk merchants and Ocean City residents — came to Thursday's City Council meeting to ask for a nonbinding referendum in the November election on the issue.
In order to make deadines to have a question placed on the ballot for the November 2012 general election, City Council would have had to vote at Thursday's public meeting.
"Whether you put it on the ballot or not really doesn't matter," Mayor Jay Gillian said.
Gillian said the city does not have the luxury to spend the additional money it would take to use the much more expensive rain forest hardwoods.
"You can't keep tacking stuff on taxpayers," he said.
The city is about to embark on a nine-year multi-million-dollar project to reconstruct the Boardwalk between Fifth and 12th streets, and the administration does not want to continue using the southern yellow pine that splinters and cracks so easily.
The mayor's administration is studying options — including wood products mixed with synthetic agents — and expects to make a recommendation in a month, Gillian said on Thursday.
"We're going to do it right and cost-effectively," he said.
No resolution related to a referendum was part of the meeting agenda on Thursday, and no council member moved to act on suggestions made by the public.
First Ward Councilman Michael DeVlieger said he had considered the wording of a potential referendum question but that he was not confident he could come up with something that could succeed.
Councilman Scott Ping reminded the public that they could organize their own initiative to have the question placed on the November ballot.
In public comment at the July 26 City Council meeting, Johnson's Popcorn owner John Stauffer asked City Council to consider greenheart, a hardwood from Guyana that is reportedly environmentally friendly and sustainable.
Stauffer lives near a stretch of Boardwalk that was redecked with Brazilian ipe in 1988, and 24 years later, the city has not had to replace a single board, he said.
"We live in a democracy where people have the right to vote on very controversial issues," Stauffer said at the Aug. 9 meeting.
After an extended debate, Ocean City passed a resolution in 1997 saying it would not purchase rain forest hardwood. The issue resurfaced a decade later when the city purchased $275,000 worth of Brazilian ipe that still sits unused on city property.
Business Administrator Mike Dattilo said Thursday that the city expects to put the ipe wood up for auction next week through govdeals.com.
"I'm old. I'm tired. I don't want to keep having this fight in Ocean City," said Cynthia Hart, who lamented that she start opposing the use of tropical hardwoods when her now-college-bound son was a baby in a backpack.
In public comment at the end of the meeting, Ocean City resident Georgina Shanley suggested turning the resolution into an ordinance that would legally prohibit the purchase of tropical forest woods.