Despite Staff Concerns, Off-Season Beach Vehicle Access For Surf Fishing Moves Forward

Despite

OCEAN CITY – Despite objections from staff, the city’s elected officials gave the go ahead this week to allow vehicles on the beach to surf fish in the offseason and will initiate a pilot program this October if the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) approves.
During Tuesday’s Mayor and City Council work session, Ocean City property owner Tom Heiple, and his wife Alice, voiced their concerns over Ocean City allowing vehicles on the beach in the off-season. The matter was scheduled for the Mayor and Council to discuss later in the afternoon.
“My wife and I are very much opposed to this because we think it would adversely affect our enjoyment here,” Tom Heiple said.
The Heiples were most concerned over the vehicles and fishermen’s adverse effect on the beach environment as Ocean City was recently rated one of the cleanest beaches in the country. They also believed the program would ultimately decrease property values in the proposed areas as vehicles on the beach would limit other’s enjoyment.
“I would be very disappointed if the council went forward with this,” Tom Heiple said.
Ocean City resident Anita Chandler, whose father was a founding member of the Assateague Mobile Sport Fishermen Association and is an avid sports fishermen herself who holds surf fishing permits and licenses in Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina, spoke in favor of allowing vehicles on the beach during the off-season for surf fishing only.
“I have many fond memories of riding on the beach as a child,” she said. “If you look at Delaware, North Carolina and Assateague, oil is really not a problem and those of us who want to do this is not going to do anything to have it taken away, so we pick up after ourselves. I think it would increase business and I am in favor of this. I believe in free and open beaches. I believe in to protect and preserve but not prohibit.”
Chandler left the council with a list of suggestions if the city moves forward, such as those driving on the beach during the off-season must be actively engaged in surf fishing at all times, lowering the proposed cost for a permit from $75 to $50 for residents, setting a stiff penalty for those driving on the beach without a permit, extending the surf fishing season from mid-October to mid-April, and having the proposed area move from 27th to 94th streets to 118th Street to the Fenwick Island line.
“I believe holders of permits should self-police,” she said. “Believe me if I see someone on that beach that doesn’t have a permit or littering, give me a number and I will call. Most of the people that fish will do the same because again, once you give us this privilege we don’t want to do anything to lose it.”
Several weeks ago, Councilman Joe Mitrecic suggested the council consider allowing vehicles on the beach during the off-season for surf fishing that had come to a stop many years ago.
This week City Engineer Terry McGean returned to the council after he had met with several city departments to discuss the matter.
“While the staff feels this is feasible, the staff recommendation is not to do this,” McGean said. “The biggest concern is the difference in our beach, Ocean City, and what you would find in Assateague, Delaware or North Carolina.”
McGean submitted, unlike Assateague Island or the Delaware State Parks that allow public vehicles on their beach, Ocean City is fully developed on the ocean front. Staff felt that vehicles traveling up and down Ocean City’s beach would be in conflict with pedestrians walking along the beach and more critically, with pedestrians crossing to and from the beach.
Other concerns included, difficulty in controlling access between the 13 potential vehicle access points to the beach, enforcement since the police do not regularly patrol the beach in the off-season and environmental concerns, such as fuel spills and dune damage.
If the council wished to pursue an on-sand vehicle (OSV) program, the staff recommended to have a one-year pilot program to allow vehicles on the beach Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., from Nov. 1 to March 30, excluding holidays, which is the same time frame horseback riding is allowed on the beach.
The proposed area is 27th to 94th streets because there are no access points along the Boardwalk or along what is called “condo row” in north Ocean City.
Staff recommended charging $75 per permit because Assateague charges $90, and Delaware charges $70 in state and $125 out of state. A permit would require proof of a driver’s license and vehicle registration, acknowledge receipt and reading of rules and regulations, waive city liability and be responsible for any damage to the beach including fuel spills. Failure to obey rules and regulations will result in loss of permit with no refund plus fines.
Staff did not believe in the requirement to be actively engaged in surf fishing because it will be difficult to enforce and saw no difference between vehicles on the beach for fishing versus one parked for surfing or simply spending time in the sun.
McGean added he has not had the chance to discuss the matter in length with DNR.
“The State of Maryland owns our beach and we have the right to maintain it, so we would need to work out this program with the DNR if the council would want to do it,” he said.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas has issues with allowing vehicles on the beach and is against the program.
“I don’t know how you are going to enforce this. We have the beach for pedestrian use, and now horses and I don’t think horses and cars mix,” she said. “I am in agreement with the staff. This is something that adds difficulty for the staff.”
Councilman Brent Ashley pointed out horses are allowed from 27th Street south, and surf fishing would be 27th Street north.
“I have always thought and often said that part of our job as council members was to present new ideas to promote tourism and to enhance the economic viability of the town.  Every bit of extra business, particularly in the off-season, helps us all,” he said.
Ashley made a motion to approve a one-year trial based on the conditions recommended by staff and to have staff develop a marketing plan for the off-season activity in conjunction with horseback riding.
“Surf fishermen are stewards of the local environment. They are very environmentally sensitive as most fishermen are. They are very aware of the balance out there and how they need to keep that balance in order for their desire to fish to continue,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.
The mayor was in agreement with Chandler in having the permit allow vehicles on the beach for surf fishing only as well as those who apply for a permit must have a fishing license.
Ashley amended his motion accordingly, and included allowing vehicles on the beach to surf fish on the weekends to the amendment.
“When I first brought this up, it was in fact exclusively for surf fishing to be able to use the beach, and I never envisioned the beach being a freeway, and I think as long as we keep surf fishing and licensed surf fisherman on the beach I think it will cut down the chances of us having an issue down the road … if it works out well this year and next year we want to have surfers that might be something to look at that time,” Mitrecic said.
Mitrecic knows there are hundreds surf fishermen in the area that would appreciate the opportunity to pull up on the beach and fish during the off-season.
“Maybe they will go have lunch at one of the local restaurants, buy their bait and tackle, snacks and sodas from a local convenient store and enjoy their day in Ocean City,” he said.
The council voted 6-1 with Pillas opposed to approve vehicles on the beach during the off-season for surf fishing only subject to DNR’s review and approval and to create a marketing plan.

9 comments on “Despite Staff Concerns, Off-Season Beach Vehicle Access For Surf Fishing Moves Forward

  1. So,… folks that fish will have an additional advantage to beach access??
    Why??
    Are they unfairly disadvantaged by having the same access availability as other beach goers??
    They can not walk the same distance to the ocean as surfers, body boarders, shell hunters, dog walkers, and beach strollers?
    They carry more equipment than the family beach goer??
    The Council needs to revisit this issue.
    I believe the fishing community has the same access rights as others not more.

  2. I am so disappointed to read that this is going to happen. Cars do not belong on the beach. I own property at 125th Street and we love to walk along the beach. So now I have to dodge vehicles and their fishing poles in order to enjoy the view? I love that officials seem open to hear all sides and usually try to do the right thing but this is not a good idea. I agree with the writer above – the surf fishers can’t possibly have more things to haul to the beach than most families on a hot summer day. Fenwick apparently allows this – let them drive a couple miles over and surf fish there.

  3. We are outraged that this is even allowed and plan to begin a petition. So far not one person I spoke with on our beach this weekend is a proponent for trucks on the beach. Once we spent a gorgeous long weekend during off season in 2012 having to inhale diesel fumes and picking up trash after the last fishing event they had. We couldnt even walk down the beach for fear of being entangled in fishing wire instead of enjoying the ocean. This mayor and council members are doing a great job of taking “America’s Finest Family Resort” and turning it into “Pottersville”. Hey guys…I’ve got a great idea…why don’t you just put a permanent drag strip down the middle of coastal highway for all the cruising, bike, and car weeks while your at it…I’m sure you could make a few bucks on that too, but dont forget to include earplugs and make public drinking legal and then you will have succeeded in scaring all the families away. Nice job.

  4. I own several properties and will sell all of them if the Mayor and his members continue to mandate these ridiculous family unfriendly events. Trucks on the beach in our family resort town is a VERY BAD IDEA. I propose everyone pay the 75 extra dollars per unit to make this stop. What about all the people who live here year round. I don’t believe they want to see and hear trucks on their beach either.

  5. We are outraged by the Mayor and City Council members on their ridiculous decision to allow trucks on our beautiful beach. Pretty soon you won’t be able to hear the ocean or smell the salt air if you continue to allow all these loud events. You are turning “America’s Finest Famiky Resort” into “Pottersville”. I’m curious to know what the mayor would actually find “offensive” to our town if it made a buck. You guys will ruin our reputation…all the families will begin not to come.

  6. This is just about the worst idea since the parking meter in Ocean City. What is the big deal about having to walk to the water? The walk is not that long. In the off-season, there is ample parking beachside. If you want to drive onto the beach to fish, go to the areas that are setup for it….air stations come to mind. Who wants to look out the window of their multi-hundred thousand dollar unit to see a bunch of vehicles on the beach? Who is going to pay the extra cost to enforce the rules? Will this be the burden of Ocean City taxpayers?

  7. Believe this pilot project will just be that a pilot. A 1 time look at allowing fishing from your 4 wheel drive vehicle and then let it be gone. Just like paid parking on 146th, 131st, 64/65th etc. Take the $$$ and be done with it. It is out of the box thinking and sometimes out of the box works, other times it doesn’t – like our Editor stated, no harm with trying it 1 time.

    Then let it be gone! I dislike the idea, but trying it then putting it to rest (because you have to spend money to make money) seems the only way things get accomplished in this day/age of not accepting NO as an answer. Dragstrip down Coastal Hwy…I like that idea, however they race/burnout at Crab Alley instead!

    1st day of the real offseason – but the Endless Summer of 2013 continues!!!!!

    ~BUSHMAN!~

  8. Seriously, after reading the arguments from residents, I am convinced these people and others who posted comments, are idiots. ‘Fishermen have the same rights’ ‘cars and horses don’t mix’ what the heck people. First off. Property value won’t change. Ocean city is ocean city. I don’t like the summer season due to the rent-a cops that over patrol wrong areas. Or the dumb tourists that trash the town.
    Let’s slay some if these. Cars that drive on assateague take care if what they have. I’ve never seen gas or oil spill.
    Pollution hasn’t been a problem. Definitely less than a quarter of what the summer tourists leave, if that.
    Cars and horses? Really? Think about how the horses get to the beach. L Oh and look at assateagues WILD ponies. They are completely fine around cars.

    I strongly support the idea.

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