OCEAN CITY – A public hearing regarding the failing bulkhead along South Ocean Drive in Ocean City’s Montego Bay community was held this week and reflected mixed emotions among residents of the community, resulting ultimately in the decision from the Mayor and Council to replace the bulkhead with a stone revetment.
The 1,000-foot aluminum bulkhead along South Ocean Drive is structurally failing, according to City Engineer Terry McGean, who has been working for several years on plans to repair or replace the existing bulkhead. With the permission of the Mayor and Council, McGean applied for a no-interest loan from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Shore Erosion Program. The loan would be used to install a stone revetment along the entire length of the bulkhead.
McGean originally requested a public hearing before the Mayor and Council to address the possibility of a walkway and pier to be added as well so that residents could maintain the water access they had for years. The public hearing changed gears however, after two petitions, essentially opposing the stone revetment, were sent to the Mayor and Council.
McGean addressed the possibility of not proceeding with the stone revetment, explaining why the this particular proposal was necessary.
“The bulkhead is structurally failing. It’s been in bad shape almost since it was installed,” McGean said.
According to McGean, if the city were to replace the failing bulkhead with another bulkhead, the resort would be left facing the same problems in 20 years.
“In my 18 years working for the city, I have replaced over 25 bulkheads, I have yet to replace a stone revetment,” McGean said.
Besides the longevity of the revetment, McGean noted the environmental benefits. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) prefers soft shoreline protection, which would not be possible in this situation, McGean explained. A stone revetment is the next viable choice.
“The stone revetment does provide some habitat,” McGean said.
A new bulkhead is the least preferred choice for DNR, said McGean.
“DNR will not fund any new or replacement of a bulkhead under their loan program,” McGean said, explaining that the no-interest loan would not be an option with a new bulkhead. The city would be left to go to the bond market or the General Fund to finance the project.
Residents of South Ocean Drive and of the Montego Bay community were present at the meeting to weigh in on the stone revetment as well as the idea for a walkway and pier.
In an effort to maintain water access for the community, McGean proposed that a six-foot walkway be added with either bump-outs or a pier for water access. The walkway would ultimately cover the stone to provide a more aesthetically pleasing view.
Mixed thoughts were heard from the residents. Those opposed to the revetment and walkway cited the increased traffic to the area that would result and ultimately bring more noise and trash. Proponents agreed that the bulkhead needs to be replaced with a revetment and that a walkway would improve the area.
“This is the only open area in Montego Bay for residents to view the water,” said Montego Bay Civic Association President Jim Walker.
Resident Eric Waterman noted the increased nuisance that would result, saying, “I think this project is full of unintended consequences.”
“I’m very much in favor of the revetment and I’m very much in favor of the walkway,” said Vera McCullough.
Residents along South Ocean Drive voiced opposition, noting that they would be affected the most by the changes.
“This is a tough one,” said Councilman Jim Hall, who made the motion to continue with the stone revetment, to add a six-foot walkway with bump-outs and to have landscaping included along the walkway.
“I know this is one of those situations where a community is divided about something,” said Councilwoman Nancy Howard, who, nonetheless, seconded the motion.
Councilman Jay Hancock noted the environmental benefit of the stone revetment.
“Anytime we can reclaim some hard shoreline with something a little softer its certainly more ecologically friendly,” he said.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas agreed with the South Ocean Drive residents’ opposition.
“I really do fall in favor with the people that live there and have to deal with that,” said Pillas.
Hancock noted it was important to remember all of the community’s residents.
“I think we have a duty to represent all of the people of Montego Bay,” said Hancock. “There’s not going to be a big flashing sign on Coastal Highway saying, ‘fishing pier’.”
The council voted four in favor, with Pillas and Martin in opposition and Council member Mary Knight absent, to move forward with the revetment and include a walkway and bump-outs.