OCEAN CITY — Congressman Frank Kratovil’s mouth literally hung open as he stared at what the so-called “storm of the decade” had washed away from the shoreline of Ocean City. In that moment, he summed up what locals have already been saying since the sun came out and the storm had passed: “can you imagine what this would look like without the dunes?”
City Engineer Terry McGean and Mayor Rick Meehan took Kratovil on a tour north and south the beach last Friday morning, pointing out the areas that were hardest hit, such as the heavily eroded stretch of beach from 143rd-145th streets, and showing up close and personal evidence to why the often contested multi-million dollar beach replenishment project is warranted.
Kratovil (D-1st District) asked numerous questions over the course of the 90-minute ride, but for the most part listened intently to McGean’s proverbial four-wheel drive presentation on the resort beach, and the congressman was visibly awestruck by the substantial beach erosion up and down the coastline, but most notably when driving past the block where his summer beach house sits.
“I know this beach well, and it doesn’t even look like the same beach that I bring my family to when we come to Ocean City,” said Kratovil. “It looks like the dunes did the job though, and thank God that they were there because seeing it up close like this shows just how terrible the damage could have been.”
McGean pointed out to Kratovil that despite the erosion and the limited access to even get out onto the beach in Ocean City last week, the day that Kratovil took the tour looked far better than what it did in the days just following the Friday the 13th storm.
“I’ve actually taken this drive up and down the beach about seven times, and I am amazed by how much the Public Works Department has cleaned up, because if you would have been on this beach the day after the storm, it looked like a war-zone,” said McGean.
Kratovil, along with numerous other politicians, had pledged their support to Ocean City in the early days and weeks following the storm, according to Meehan, and the mayor used the opportunity to explain the importance of the project, which has had its share of opponents since its 1991 inception.
The total cost of the beach replenishment program, which consists of beach, dune and seawall projects shared between the town, county, state and federal governments, has a price tag of almost $90 million to date.
The town had allotted $500,000 in the budget for the planned 2010 replenishment, which happens every four years, and is assessed on a semi-annual basis by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The 2010 project would be the sixth time (1992, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 are the others) that the beach would be replenished, creating a barrier by the dune that would protect the town’s $10.5 billion in assessable property from storms like the Friday the 13th storm.
McGean said that the town would be meeting with FEMA, MEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers this week to determine the exact scope of this spring’s project, but conceded that it would be increased due to the storm.
“What we had planned is going to have to change and the quantities are going to have to increase,” said McGean. “After the meetings, they are trying to figure out what type of funding is available for the future and to complete the additional scope of this project.”
Meehan said that the good news is that since the Army Corps of Engineers had everything planned for the upcoming nourishments, officials would have the data to accurately assess exactly what was lost in the storm, thus making the time table for replenishment all the more quick.
Kratovil and Meehan ironically had taken a similar tour of the beach just a year ago, but the scene was much different this time around, and Meehan said afterwards that the aesthetic message to Kratovil was probably even more emphasized because of that.
“[Kratovil] saw the dune when it was probably at it’s highest point when we took this same ride a year ago, and he knows Ocean City, and has a vested interest in the town,” said Meehan. “I hope that he’ll be able to go back [to Washington] and gain support for not only the project itself, but to tell how the project probably saved a lot of properties.”
The estimated damages prevented by the beach replenishment project since its inception is reportedly in the realm of $238 million, according to town data, and the amount paid into the project based on the 50-year agreement which calls for a cost sharing between Ocean City ($11 million paid in), Worcester County ($11 million), the state of Maryland ($24 million) and the federal government ($44 million).
McGean said that FEMA is keeping mum about offering any financial assistance until, at the very least, the Army Corps of Engineers finishes an assessment of the damages and announces the fully amended scope of the 2010 project.
At the end of the day, Kratovil left with a striking visual of what happened in Ocean City, calling it “truly unbelievable” and as he pledged his continued support to Meehan and the rest of Ocean City, local officials hoped that the project’s worth will be a bit more undeniable. Time will tell if that’s the case.