OCEAN CITY — In the end, the Ocean City Council thought that an added amenity for the county was much more important than any added liability to the town.
After several back and forths between the Ocean City Council and the Worcester County Commissioners, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program received the green light it had been looking for from the Ocean City Council, who voted unanimously to assume the liability insurance needed to construct a kayak launch at Ayres Creek on the grounds formerly used as a landfill.
In order to use the $49,000 in State Highway Administration grant money to essentially build a boat launch, and do some minor renovations to the area such as installing an electronic gate, the bays program needed some governmental entity with vested interest in the property to assume the liability of the added usage of the property.
Until Tuesday, however, the effort was stuck in the proverbial mud as the Worcester County Commissioners had voted against any involvement in the venture and the town of Ocean City was a bit reluctant to assume the liability on the grounds, even though the council had previously voted to lease the land for $1 to the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.
All that changed on Tuesday, as the council green lighted the program, assumed the “minimal risk of liability”, as per city solicitor Guy Ayres, and took a not so subtle dig at the County Commissioners.
“This is going to be a great thing for both the town and the county, and it’s just such a shame that the County Commissioners didn’t have the foresight to see how beneficial this would be to the community,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic. “Only the OC Council had enough vision to see this through for the residents and the visitors.”
Another council member hinted in private that the commission’s lack of involvement with the project would be all but forgotten as soon as Maryland Coastal Bays Program gets ready to cut the ribbon to open the boat launch.
“When the cameras are there, I bet that [the commissioners] will be too, despite totally turning their backs on this venture,” said the councilperson who wished to remain anonymous.
Seemingly, the simple issue of liability insurance covering an essential non-profit kayaking trail on an environmentally sound, and now essentially vacant former landfill, has stirred up something different altogether between the two entities.
Dr. Roman Jesien, of Maryland Coastal Bays said in November that he felt as if the project was being stalled “out of spite” by the County Commissioners and said he felt trapped in a political stalemate.
“If the town and the county could just play nice in the sandbox together, we could add value to this property and give people of this area an added amenity,” said Jesien last month.
Mayor Rick Meehan said that now that the decision has been made and the town of Ocean City will assume the legal responsibility, it’s time to move forward and promote it accordingly.
“When we advertise Ocean City, we advertise the county as well, and all the things in this entire area that visitors will enjoy when they come here,” said Meehan. “This kayaking trail will be a great added amenity to both the county and the resort and make the entire county a stronger vacation destination.”
As for the liability insurance, Ayres said that the town would only have to put out any money to cover the costs if a claim is filed in the event that someone is injured while using the boat launch.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will be signed between the town and Maryland Coastal Bays in the near future, according to Public Works Director Hal Adkins, who also noted the site must get concurrence from the Maryland Department of the Environment for an alternate use.
“The fact that the Maryland Coastal Bays will be managing the site is why I changed my mind,” said Councilman Doug Cymek.
The launch would be on Ayres Creek just off Lewis Road and would go toward the South Point boat ramp for six miles, then proceed up to the Assateague State Park boat ramp which is about four miles from there, and potentially be able to go to the West Ocean City harbor which is another eight miles, according to Dave Wilson, executive director of Maryland Coastal Bays.
“There’s nothing in the water that I’ve seen on the entire trail that would be hazardous in any way for users of the boat launch,” said Wilson. “The trail and the water is absolutely beautiful.”
Previously, the site was used as a municipal and rubble dump from 1954-1980 and as a police shooting range from 1980-1989. The area has been cleared by the Maryland Department of Environment of any signs of toxic materials since 2007.
Meehan hoped the project could now move forward and get a new name attached to it.
“I hope we can start calling this thing the Ayres Creek Kayak Launch instead of everyone just referring to it as the dump,” he said.