OC OKs Canal Dredging Plan

Resort officials this week agreed to move forward with a long-term plan to
dredge the vast network of canals in Ocean
City, approving an
ordinance that could force some property owners to repair failing bulkheads or
have the town step in and do it for them at the owner’s expense.

For years, Ocean City
has been preparing a vast plan to dredge the canals from one end of the resort
to the other in order to maintain water depth and navigation. In order to
accomplish the plan, town officials are relying on property owners along the
canals to repair failing bulkheads, which contribute to the silting in of the
canals in the first place.

Before the town moves
forward with the systematic dredging of the canals, the Mayor and Council
needed an ordinance in place to provide a mechanism for ensuring the bulkheads
along the canals are repaired or replaced in advance of the dredging. This
week, the elected officials passed on first reading an ordinance that will
require the property owners to repair failing bulkheads or have the city do it
for them and charge them for the work. Furthermore, if the town does have to
intercede and repair the bulkheads for private property owners, a lien can be
placed on the property if the owners do not reimburse the town within the
timetable prescribed in the ordinance.

Before the ordinance was
approved, Councilwoman Margaret Pillas asked if any consideration would be
given to owners of multiple properties along the same stretch of canal.

“For example, if a
person owned three units in a townhouse community, could the town put in a
payment system instead of making them pay for two, three or four units at one
time?” she said. “It could be rather onerous to have a property owner pay to
repair or replace several bulkheads at the same time.”

City Engineer Terry
McGean explained those situations would likely be considered on a case-by-case
basis after the ordinance was approved. McGean said dredging the canals to a
sufficient depth was something the town has been trying to accomplish for years
and the ordinance approved on first reading Monday would help accomplish the

“For 20 years, we’ve
been trying to do this and there will be a little bit of a learning curve as we
move along,” he said in response to Pillas’ question. “When we get in there and
start dredging, we can address problems as they come up.”

McGean presented an
overview of the canal dredging project, telling the Mayor and Council a
priority list was established based on which canals were in need of dredging
the most.

“The order of dredging
is based on the depth of the canal,” he said. “However, we have attempted to
group canals geographically in the interest of cost effectiveness, so some that
aren’t as high on the priority list may get done before others. Once we apply
for the permits, we’ll go year to year until the process is completed, but the
permit process is slow. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to start dredging by the fall
or winter of 2010.”

Of course, the sand and
other material dredged from the canals will have to be deposited somewhere
else. McGean told the council a primary dredge spoil dumpsite has already been

“The lagoon at Northside Park is expected to be a spoil dump
area,” he said. “We’re going to fill in some of the deeper areas.”

Councilman Jay Hancock
asked about the opportunity to use the dredged material to create small islands
in the back bays. He referenced the so-called Dog and Bitch Islands
in the bay, which have long been debated as a possible dredge spoil dumping
site, but dumping there would require some federal funding which is not
available now.

“That project may have a
little flicker of life left,” he said. “If it could be revived, that could be a
great source for dumping this material.”

McGean agreed, saying,
“that would be a great benefit. We would love to have that available to us in
the future.”