A large gathering of south-end residents helped pack the lecture room at the Ocean City Free Public Library for Thursday night's City Council meeting as the neighbors pleaded for help in saving their severely eroded beach.
Even months before Superstorm Sandy struck on Oct. 29, the beach between 50th and 59th streets disappeared during high tides. But the storm completely wiped out protective dunes and left that part of the island defenseless against future storms.
A succession of south-enders spoke in the public comment portion at the start of the meeting. They asked City Council and the city administration to take action to protect property, to preserve the greatest asset of a tourist economy and to afford the south end the same consideration as other parts of the island.
"We need sand, and we need it this year," Simpson Avenue resident Al Grohe said to a round of applause.
"We've been told by a bunch of governmental bodies, 'We're working on it, we're working on it,' " Thad Kirk of the 5600 block of West Avenue said. "You didn't wait to clean up the streets."
Kirk delivered to City Council copies of what he said were 200 letters from south end constituents to legislators.
The public comment elicited a vow from Mayor Jay Gillian.
"I can promise you, and I don't do it often ... we're going to do whatever we can," Gillian said. "I'm going to do everything I can without going to jail."
But what exactly the city can do remained mostly unclear.
Business Administrator Mike Dattilo reported that the letter-writing campaign of Ocean City residents appears to have been noticed by legislators.
"We have very encouraging signs," he said.
The city administration remains convinced that the best scenario would be for funding of an already approved Army Corps of Engineers project for the south end. The approval would bring beach replenishment back every three years with the city paying just 8.75 percent of the overall project cost.
But Dattilo said the extension of a beach-widening project on the north end of the island — scheduled to start today (Friday, Feb. 15) — appears unlikely, particularly because nesting season for the endangered piping plover starts on March 15 and stretches into August.
He said state and federal officials have been noncommital on how disaster relief funds will be spent. But with more than $50 billion earmarked for Sandy relief, there appears to be some chance to protect south-end properties with a beach replenishment project.
In the meantime, City Council approved a bond ordinance that includes $2.7 million to replace dunes, fencing and plantings across the length of Ocean City's beachfront. The plan includes funding to truck in sand to bolster dunes at the south end.