Ocean City Today

Beach fund can’t cover inlet work expense

State law prohibits drawing from that source for efforts unrelated to replenishment
By Greg Ellison | Feb 01, 2018
Courtesy of: Mike Coppa Ocean City has been asked to contribute $150,000 towards a $1.2 million Army Corps of Engineers inlet dredging feasibility study to curtail ships running aground due to shoaling, like the Instigator fishing vessel did last month.

(Feb. 2, 2018) Beach replenishment and dredging in the inlet and West Ocean City harbor have one thing in common: they are temporary solutions to perennial problems.

That, however, is about as far as it goes, the City Council concurred Tuesday, as council members made clear that beach replenishment is not related to waterway maintenance financially or physically.

But resort officials also made clear they also are aware that decreased navigability of local waters affects area commerce and recreational pursuits.

City Engineer Terry McGean told council members at their work session that although the Army Corps of Engineers has increased the frequency of dredging, a significant storm could close the channel quickly, especially to larger vessels.

“We just can’t dredge it often enough,” he said. “Right now, we’re treating the symptoms, but not curing the disease. It primarily affects fishing fleets, but … may impact recreational vessels.”

In May 2015, shoaling concerns caused Ocean City to join the Worcester County Commissioners and Maryland Department of Natural Resources in sending a letter to the Army Corps to design and construct navigation improvements.

McGean said the Army Corps is now ready to start the process by conducting a feasibility study, which requires a 50 percent local match for federal funding.

The study is estimated to cost $1.2 million, with half of that divided between the state, county and Ocean City. Ocean City’s share would be $150,000.

Where that money will be found, however, remains unclear.

A proposal developed by federal, state and local officials last fall to redirect a portion of beach replenishment fund turned out to be a good, but illegal, idea. As McGean later discovered, state law prohibits spending beach money on unrelated work.

In mid-December, the county sent a letter to the state confirming its participation in the project and support for revising legislation to allow beach funds to support inlet improvements.

Councilman Tony DeLuca asked if the proposal could negatively affect future beach replenishment funding.

McGean said the most recent beach replenishment project was completed under budget, with millions remaining in the fund.

Councilman Dennis Dare added that it took years to secure the beach replenishment funding and that it is too important to jeopardize.

In any event, Mayor Rick Meehan said increasing the inlet depth would largely benefit the West Ocean City Harbor.

“All that economic benefit really goes to West Ocean City,” he said.

Councilman John Gehrig added that roughly 60 percent of county funding already comes from Ocean City and that resort government has gone to court to get some of that back.

The money to inlet maintenance, Dare said, “needs to come from economic development funds, not beach replenishment funds,” since the inlet and harbor are beyond Ocean City’s purview.

McGean backed Dare’s assertion that the inlet and harbor are not the resorts purview.

“There is a misperception this is Ocean City’s problem and … fault,” McGean said. “I hope everyone hears loud and clear the harbor is not in Ocean City.”

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