Ocean City Beach Gets Fiscal Shot In Arm

OCEAN CITY – In the seven years since a federally mandated water quality testing program began on the beaches of Ocean City, the resort has had a perfect record in terms of advisories and closures and a fiscal shot in the arm presented to the town this week by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials should go a long way to extending that impeccable run.

Against the backdrop of a crystal clear beach day on Wednesday, EPA officials presented a check for a $269,250 grant to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) for a continuation of a water quality monitoring program that began seven years ago. In 2000, the federal government passed the BEACH (Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health) Act to mandate frequent water quality monitoring to ensure the natural waters are protected from potentially harmful levels of bacteria and other contaminants.

Much of the $269,650 presented to MDE on Wednesday will be directed to continuing water quality testing on the beaches in Ocean City, which, unlike many other public beaches throughout the country, has a perfect record since the program began seven years ago, according to Dr. Richard Eskin of MDE, who accepted the check on behalf of the state on Wednesday.

“Ocean City has a perfect record with zero advisories or closures since this program began,” he said. “The citizens of Maryland and all of the visitors to Ocean City can be assured the beaches are safe for their enjoyment.”

To date, the EPA has awarded $62 million to 35 states and territories to improve water quality testing and the resulting public notification of health risks during the summer. With this week’s $260,000-plus grant, the EPA has delivered over $1.4 million to Maryland in BEACH Act funding since 2001.

The funds allow MDE, in cooperation with the county health departments, to continue to monitor water quality at beaches around the state for harmful levels of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses or parasites that may result from untreated or partially treated sewage, pet waste or runoff pollution, for example. If and when harmful levels of pollutants are detected at the tested beaches, public advisories are posted and, on some occasions, beaches are closed to swimming.

The latter has happened in other coastal areas around the country, but Ocean City has never had even an advisory.

“We had over 260,000 people here last weekend and it’s fair to say almost all of them spent at least some time on this beach and in that ocean,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “Public safety is always our top priority and we’re very fortunate to have EPA as a partner in that.”

EPA Region III Director Don Welsh, who presented the check to MDE officials on Wednesday, said about one-third of all Americans visit coastal areas each year making a total of 910 million trips and spending about $44 billion, which makes monitoring the swimming areas and ensuring they are safe for the public just as important economically as it is environmentally.

“When we stand here next to this crowded beach, we can see the economic impact of this,” he said. “There’s an important lesson here. This upsets the notion the economy and the environment are enemies. Certainly, as we stand here today, we can see that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand in hand.”