It was great news to learn this month the Army Corps of Engineers heard the pleas of the local delegation of elected officials and approved some short-term funding to deepen the Inlet.
While anything of the immediate nature is welcome since many consider the shallow Inlet an emergency, what’s truly needed is a long-term commitment outlined in an official agreement between Ocean City, Worcester County and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The main issue here is the local parties and the Army Corps of Engineers must revisit the Ocean City, Maryland and Vicinity Water Resources Study, a document completed in 1998 that recommended the Inlet and harbor depth be increased to 14 and 16 feet respectively from the current 10 to 12 feet. That document never saw a lot of light due to federal spending limits.
Although it’s been 17 years since the study’s recommendations were outlined, it’s a solid starting point for talks. A more appropriate depth must be maintained and balanced against the interests from the private sector as well as Mother Nature.
Due to the geography of the area, the manmade Inlet, the beach replenishment project and prevailing tendencies of the weather, depth will also be a concern at the Inlet, marina entrances and back bays. There will always be an inevitable amount of shoaling that will occur, but there’s also a way to strike a balance through a strategic and routine dredging schedule.
This is an economic issue and an important one. The present state of commercial harbor and the dearth of working commercial operations proves the severity of the situation. Commercial fisherman Joe Letts has summed up the problem bluntly. In 2011, he managed five commercial clamming boats and 42 employees. He reported purchasing 2.7 million gallons of fuel locally to run his boats that year. A year later, the decreasing depth of the Inlet caused so much damage to his 100-foot boats he relocated to New Jersey.
“Ocean City used to be a thriving Inlet for commercial fishing,” he told this newspaper in April. “Now you’ve got a handful of owner-operators. It’s a shame. If they dig the Inlet, people will come back.”
That may be true, but a one-time project is not the answer. A long-term schedule needs to be outlined to confirm the commitment. Without a formal dredging agreement, we doubt the confidence will be there for fishing operations like that of Letts’ to return. The area needs them back operating locally.