DNR Wants No Part Of Proposed Boathenge Project

OCEAN CITY – This week the Boathenge project hit a major roadblock on its path to completion after the much-awaited response from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) resounded with a firm “no” to the project’s feasibility.

Joe Kroart III, owner of the Ocean Gallery on the Boardwalk, came before the Mayor and Council in August to present the idea that had been generating discussion among residents and locals for months.

The Boathenge idea was inspired by Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument located in England, and also by Carhenge, the more recent monument located in Nebraska. Carhenge has brought over 80,000 people to its remote location in Nebraska and has received a mass amount of public relations, a result that Kroart hoped to achieve with Boathenge.

Boathenge would essentially mirror Carhenge and Stonehenge, but would display boats half buried in the sand. The sculpture would be located between First and 2nd streets, 125 feet from the Boardwalk.

At the City Council work session in August, Kroart had explained to the Mayor and Council that the objective would be to bring positive attention to the town and hopefully bring more business along with it.

Although some of the council members agreed that this sort of “out of the box” thinking was necessary for Ocean City’s “tourism battle”, they were unsure if the project itself was feasible. The council voted four in favor and three in opposition to forward the project to the Department of Natural Resources for consideration.

After weeks of no news and little headway in the Boathenge project, Kroart finally received an answer this week. Unfortunately for proponents of the Boathenge project the response was a strong “no”.

The answer was received in the form of a letter from Jordan R. Loran, P.E. Director of Engineering and Construction for DNR.

The letter states that, “Natural Resources Article 8-1101 prohibits permanent structures within the District unless relating to storm control, beach erosion and sediment control, maintenance projects, and a planned pipeline. A sculpture does not relate to any of those exceptions and could get in the way of our efforts if we have to undertake an erosion control or maintenance project on that section of the beach.”

“We sort of anticipated this might happen,” Kroart said of the response from DNR.

The current state law pertaining to the beach clearly prohibits any construction activity on the beach. According to the Department of Natural Resources, Title 08, Chapter 01 titled, Activities or Uses in the Beach Erosion Control District, no construction is to occur in the beach erosion control district. The chapter reads,  “Land clearing, construction activity, or the construction or placement of permanent structures within the beach erosion control district is prohibited.”

The beach erosion control district is the area east of the State Building Limit Line. Maryland State Code defines the State Building Line as “South of the northern boundary of the bed of 33rd street. The State-Ocean City building limit line is the western boundary of Atlantic Avenue [the boardwalk] as shown on the plat of the Sinepuxent Beach Company.”

Kroart was hopeful that this would not be the end of Boathenge.

In 1998, the state approved an amendment to the aforementioned law that would allow for construction in the beach erosion control district to allow for the Boardwalk expansion. Kroart explained the proposed house bill, which later became a law, was similar to what would be needed in order for Boathenge to become a reality.

The amendment allowing for the Boardwalk expansion was also addressed in the letter from the DNR, with Loran stating, “This action (approved by the General Assembly, Chap 241, 1998) was clearly related to safety as boardwalk crowds during the summer made it safer to move the train into it’s own section of Boardwalk and the extra width of Boardwalk (concrete) is not a safety hazard during storms. Clearly a sculpture on the beach will not improve safety.”

Although the letter hints that an amendment allowing for Boathenge is not possible, Kroart remains hopeful. At this point, for an amendment to be possible, a recommendation to the General Assembly would have to be made this winter, followed by approval at the state level. Delegate Jim Mathias would be required to present an amendment to the existing law that would allow for the construction of Boathenge.

“While he has supported the project conceptually thus far, we have not yet discussed with him any particulars or design criteria related to the project, so his future involvement remains unknown. Obviously, a lot of work needs to be done before he could feel comfortable sponsoring an amendment to an existing state law before the General Assembly this winter,” Kroart said.