City To Create, Fund New Canal Maintenance Program

OCEAN CITY – The issue of canal maintenance came before the Mayor and Council at a work session Tuesday, resulting in the unanimous decision to move forward with a dedicated program under the control and funding of the town.

City Engineer Terry McGean presented the Mayor and Council with an update on the status of the town’s 64 canals, asking for direction from the Mayor and Council on how to proceed with maintaining and cleaning the canals.

According to McGean, the current issues that are posing a threat to the welfare of many of the canals are siltation, pollution, low oxygen and flushing. There is also a lack of “ownership” of the canals, with confusion over who bears the responsibility for canal maintenance and clean-up.

According to the town code, the responsibility lies primarily with the canal’s adjacent property owner. The problem is, getting adjacent canals dredged or cleaned up can be an arduous process for property owners and is rarely accomplished. McGean explained that in his years as city engineer, only one street/neighborhood has gone through the complete process to get its canal dredged.

McGean presented the Mayor and Council with a list of items that need to be set into motion in order for canals to be maintained. First, the city would need to take responsibility for the canals. This would result in the need to change the code as well as establish a maintenance fund. Canals would need to be identified and prioritized based on their problems and then solutions would need to be implemented.

In 2005 and 2006, the Department of Natural Resources surveyed every canal in the town and presented the results to McGean, who then ranked the canals based on their problem areas.

At Tuesday’s meeting, McGean presented the Mayor and Council with a proposed dredge program for the canals, recommending that a depth of three feet be set with the goal to be at three feet within five years. Although the proposal is set at three feet, McGean suggested that the canals be dredged to four feet in order to allow for fill in.

The dredging plan, in conjunction with the advice of dredging contractors, calls for 200 cubic yards or dredging per day with no more than 30 days of dredging per year. The resulting figures per year would be 6,000 cubic yards.

McGean presented a five-year plan of canals to be dredged based on ranking. He also presented the Mayor and Council with proposed sites for dredging fill in. The Northside Park lagoon and an island in the middle of the Loop Rd. canal are two of the proposed sites for fill in.

The estimated funding for the dredging project has been set at $200,000 to $300,000 per year. McGean informed the council that the funding options warranted the direction and decision of the council. The funding could come from a variety of sources, including the general fund, a special tax district, which also warrants several options, a slip tax, or other methods.

McGean’s recommendation to the Mayor and Council was for funds to be drawn from a combination of the general fund and a special tax district. McGean recommended that 50 percent come from the general fund and 50 percent come from a special tax district that would in essence be coming from adjacent property owners of the canals.

Mayor Rick Meehan suggested that the funding come solely out of the general fund. Meehan pointed out that the town did not charge beachfront property owners for dredging along the beaches, even though the perks of dredging had an impact on their property. Meehan also noted that the canal front properties were already paying more and were responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the bulkhead along their property.

Councilwoman Nancy Howard disagreed, suggesting that 75 percent of the funding come from all of the town’s property owners and that 25 percent come from the general fund.

Councilman Jay Hancock added that having financial implications for property owners could spur better maintenance of the canals.

“I think a financial role will increase the vigilance,” he said.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas suggested that property owners be responsible for repairing the bulkhead before any dredging is done. Pillas suggested that bulkhead repair be used as an incentive; neighborhoods or streets with completed bulkhead work would then be bumped to a higher spot on the list for dredging.

A motion was made to continue into the next stages of planning with the majority of the funding to come from the general fund and for bulkhead repair to be used as an incentive. The motion was passed unanimously with Councilman Lloyd Martin absent. Funding will be examined more closely in the future as the plans move into later stages. The code will also have to be changed in the future to allow for the town’s responsibility of canal maintenance.