Ocean City Today

No money for inlet from OC?

Mayor’s statement says resort’s taxes help pay for study
By Brian Gilliland | May 10, 2018
Photo by: File photo

(May 11, 2018) Calling Maryland’s only access to the Atlantic Ocean the Ocean City Inlet is a misnomer in the view of resort officials, who are suggesting that it’s more like the Worcester County Inlet when it comes to jurisdictional matters.

Resort Mayor Rick Meehan said as much last week, after the Worcester County Commissioners asked the resort to help pay for a study of the inlet’s severe shoaling problem. Meehan said because the inlet benefits the county overall, the shoaling problem is a county issue and that Ocean City is already helping financially with the property taxes it pays to the county.

His statements were in response to an April 19 letter from the commissioners seeking the resort’s financial participation. The City Council has yet to issue a formal response.

“The town believes that this project benefits all of Worcester County and should be a county-funded project, Meehan said. “The commercial harbor is located in Worcester County and this project benefits West Ocean City, Ocean City, Ocean Pines and surrounding areas.

“Ocean City is part of Worcester County and, in fact, due to our tax base, would already be contributing approximately 58 percent of the revenue necessary to fund the county’s share of this project. We support the study and the county’s commitment to maintaining the inlet for the benefit of the entire county,” Meehan’s statement, in its entirety, reads.

For at least the past five years, the inlet has been plagued by shoaling, with sand constantly trying to fill in the slough carved by the 1933 hurricane that separated Assateague Island from the resort.

The creation of a navigable passage to the ocean launched an offshore sportsfishing industry that grew into a multi-million-dollar enterprise and made Ocean City the “White Marlin Capital of the World.”

But in the years since, vessels that once traversed that ribbon of water without consequence began to run aground on growing sandbars, especially between buoys 11 and 12.

At first, it was commercial fishing vessels riding low in the water with their catch, then it was empty commercial fishing boats, and now sporadic reports of larger recreational vessels striking bottom have begun to appear.

“I hope Ocean City isn’t shooting themselves in the foot with this,” said Jim Motsko, founder of the resort’s White Marlin Open fishing tournament, itself a multi-million-dollar event.

The inlet has occasionally been closed to commercial fishing operators, or the boats have had to moor in Ocean City and have their catch ferried to the harbor by smaller vessels.

Commercial fishing captains also have timed their boats’ passage through the inlet according to the tides to avoid hitting bottom.

Others have become stuck so many times they have packed up operations for safer harbor in places like New Jersey.

“I’m not going to be political about it, I just think it’s foolish,” said Merrill Campbell, of Southern Connection Seafood, which relies on inlet access to operate.

Because of the longstanding issue, several dozen meetings have been held, and eventually a plan emerged. A partnership between federal, state and local government, along with the Army Corps of Engineers would tackle the shoaling problem.

The plan would take money to implement, and first, the feasibility phase needs to be completed to determine if the project has the legs to move forward. The cost associated with the feasibility phase is estimated to be $1.2 million.

The Army Corps of Engineers has promised to contribute $600,000 of that cost, with the state offering $200,000 and Worcester County putting in $300,000, which leaves an estimated balance of $100,000.

Additional funds from other sources are possible.

“It is our sincere hope that Ocean City will recognize the importance of the project and join us as a non-federal sponsor with a commitment of $200,000 for the feasibility study and continued support of the long-term dredging operation … in a similar fashion as our current arrangement as non-federal sponsors of the beach replenishment project in Ocean City,” the letter, signed by Commissioner President Diana Purnell, reads.

In the April, in discussions leading up to the county commissioners asking the resort for the money, Joe Mitrecic, Ocean City’s commissioner, noted that the county had not formally asked the resort for money.

When a motion to supply that request in the form of the aforementioned letter was offered by Commissioner Chip Bertino, Mitrecic was the lone nay vote.

In the meantime, Ocean City officials have bitterly complained about the unfairness of the county’s taking millions of dollars in property tax revenue from Ocean City, when resort property owners don’t benefit from as many county services as the rest of Worcester’s population.

For the past several years, Meehan and members of the council have pushed hard to have the county create a lower tax rate — or tax differential — for the resort that reflects the imbalance between what is paid and what is received.

Ocean City government also has filed suit to have the court decide whether the resort is owed a differential.

Assuming the inlet study is financed somehow and its conclusions are accepted, the Army Corps of Engineers will cover 90 percent of the cost for remedial action, up to $10 million. The balance would have to be shouldered by non-federal partners.

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