City Council took action Thursday on agenda items from supporting higher speed limits on the Route 52 causeway to advertising for bids on removing underground storage tanks on the 1000 block of Haven Avenue.
But much of the meeting was dedicated to discussion of the cleanup and recovery after Hurricane Sandy.
Council's meetings in the aftermath of the Oct. 29 storm were postponed, and the meeting on Thursday (Nov. 15) was moved from City Hall to the Ocean City Free Public Library.
UPDATES FROM THE CITY ADMINISTRATION
Business Administrator Mike Dattilo updated City Council and city residents on storm-related topics:
- Trash and recycling pickup are back on a normal schedule. But Thursday (Thanksgiving) pickup next week will move to Friday, and regularly scheduled Friday pickups move to Saturday.
- The city will continue to provide extra trucks and equipment to remove furniture and demolition material. Property owners are asked to place material at a convenient curbside spot (regular pickup location, if possible), but away from telephone poles and storm drains.
- While the heavy equipment will remove demolition material, the city asks for continued cooperation from owners in cleaning up whatever smaller messes are left after pickup.
- Sand removal on streets continues aggressively.
- City Council at its next meeting will be asked to vote on emergency work and approprations related to the cleanup effort. The city does not yet have an exact figure on what emergency spending will be necessary before the end of the year, but the administration should have a better idea by the next council meeting.
- City Council will vote at its next meeting on waiving construction code and zoning code permit fees for storm-related repairs. Applying for the permits will still be necessary.
- The city hopes to free $500,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for potential assistance to businesses and residences (likely in the form of loans).
- Bayside dredging was not significantly delayed by the storm (an equipment breakdown caused a longer interruption). Crews expect to finish their second lagoon on Friday. The city hopes to get an permit extension to allow the contractor to finish work by the end of the calendar year.
SOUTH END BEACH REPLENISHMENT
Jeffrey Monihan and Wendy Smith, residents of Ocean City's south end, asked City Council during public comment to do whatever it could to add that part of the island to an Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment project scheduled for this winter.
The project is scheduled to widen beaches from the north end of Ocean City to about 14th Street. The south-end beaches were severely eroded before the Oct. 29 storm, and that area saw the worst property damage.
Business Administrator Mike Dattilo said the city will work with the Army Corps, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to see what can be done, and he said more information will be forthcoming.
He said it's now a question of protecting property, not recreation. He also said an extension of a project area is not unprecedented in Ocean City.
An existing application for a separate beach-widening permit for the south end is under review and awaiting funding on Capitol Hill.
Dattilo and Councilman Keith Hartzell suggested that residents interested in expressing their support for south-end beach replenishment could call or write federal legislators.
PRAISE FOR CITY AND VOLUNTEERS
Councilman Mike DeVlieger, a First Ward captain with OCNJ CARE, praised the tireless work of the people who organize and staff the volunteer relief effort.
"I'm just amazed by the capacity some people have to give," DeVlieger said. "The whole system was put together on the fly, and they're doing a fantastic job."
As a downtown commercial property owner, Councilman Keith Hartzell spoke of the enormity of the cleanup tasks, and he said volunteer groups arrived at doorsteps to helped ease the overwhelming feelings.
"This community really pulled together," Hartzell said.
He also made a pitch for supporting the Asbury Avenue shopping district as it tries to salvage what it can of the vital holiday shopping season.
"More than ever, if you're going to shop, shop downtown," he said.
Steve Cole — a Merion Park resident who regularly lobbies the city administration for more attention to flood controls — opened the meeting with a public comment praising the city for its work after a flood that clearly couldn't be controlled.
"I sincerely and from the bottom of my heart thank the city," Cole said.
Cole's comments were similar to several other remarks from the public and council members thanking the city adminstration for its quick, decisive and effective plans to mobilize work crews to clean up the streets, pick up trash and communicate with residents and businesses about storm relief and recovery.
Hartzell said FEMA officials told him that Ocean City easily outperformed other cities in initiating relief efforts. He also shared a quote from former National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Eberwine: "Frank Donato and Scott Morgan (Ocean City's emergency management coordinators) are among the best, and you're fortunate to have them."
The meeting was not all about praise. DeVlieger warned that there are reports of scam artists showing up in town, and he asked property owners to check licenses and references for any contractors they hire.
He said predatory landlords are withholding security deposits. And he also said that some people have reportedly been taking advantage of the generosity of the Ocean City Ecumenical Council Food Cupboard — showing up multiple times a day to pick up supplies and leaving the island with them.
He asked residents in need to bring some sort of ID when they use Food Cupboard services.