The state is moving forward with a plan that would allow bicyclists and pedestrians to travel from the end of West Avenue at 59th Street onto a 300-foot raised boardwalk over the marshes. The boardwalk would connect with an existing rail trail that leads to the parking lot at Corson's Inlet State Park.
The proposed new boardwalk would be located on state park land that extends to 59th Street, but Ocean City apparently has rights to "paper streets" that were never constructed — an extension of West Avenue into the park and an extension of 59th Street toward the mainland.
Representatives of the state Division of Parks and Forestry visited City Council on Thursday night to ask the city "in essence to partner with us" — because the proposed boardwalk would cross Ocean City's "paper streets."
The existing rail trail starts at the Corson's Inlet State Park parking lot on the causeway to Strathmere and travels about one-third of a mile to a dead end less than 100 yards from Ocean City streets.
"We'd like to connect our park to the local community," said John Trontis, assistant director of the state Division of Parks and Forestry. "That's our goal statewide."
Trontis showed plans for a disabled-accessible boardwalk that would enter the marshes at 59th Street in a line with the east sidewalk of West Avenue. The boardwalk would turn toward the west to meet the rail trail. Two ramps would bring bicycles and pedestrians up to the level of the raised rail bed.
Instead of traditional pilings, the boardwalk would be supported by helical piers — screw-like piles that would anchor stringers and decking. Water and wildlife would be able to travel under the boardwalk, according to Trontis.
He said the proposed project is about to enter the "land management review" phase of permitting and would continue with all required Department of Environmental Protection reviews.
"I can't guarantee there will be no wetland or permit problems," Trontis said of a process that is still in the early stages.
But a recent review showed that no endangered animals or plants would be affected by the project, Southern Regional Superintendent Thomas Keck told City Council.
The state Department of Environmental Protection, in a December 2011 news release, announced $5,850 in federal funding for a "59th Street Ocean City Boardwalk." The state would match a portion of that funding.
Trontis said the grant money would be used to buy material and the project could be completed — as have all Parks and Forestry projects since October 2010 — with in-house labor.
In public comment before Trontis' presentation, current Advisory Council on Physical Fitness and Sports member Kevin Redmond and former member Tom Heist spoke in favor of the project.
They described it as an an enhancement to safety and quality of life and a natural extension to a island-wide safe bicycle corridor under development.
Ocean City resident Irene Lorenzon said it was "an unnecessary intrusion" on wetlands and wildlife. She said 135 property owners have signed a letter of objection.
In questioning Trontis after his presentation, Councilman Tony Wilson clarified that a disabled-accessible trail is "something that's generally not available" at most parks.
Councilman Mike DeVlieger confirmed that the city would incur no costs from the proposed project.
Reacting to suggestions that the trail could create a parking problem, Councilman Keith Hartzell said neighbors told him parking would not be an issue — because there is none to be found anyway during the summer.
Hartzell said the neighbors who showed up earlier Thursday for a tour of the project area seemed satisfied with the proposed project.
Council President Michael Allegretto closed the discussion by saying that council would reach out to citizens for questions and feedback before making any decision.