Council Debates Kayak Venture At Old Landfill

OCEAN CITY — There is still hopes of turning an old landfill into an essential boat launch for a coastal bays kayaking venture, but what’s keeping the idea stuck in the mud at this point is liability insurance.

On Monday, Maryland Coastal Bays Program Executive Director Dave Wilson asked the Mayor and City Council to use the town-owned 37-acre site that is commonly known as the Ocean City dump as an entry point for a proposed kayaking business, which would be operated by his program.

“We aren’t asking for any money, but we are asking for the go-ahead on what we feel is a really good project to promote resource-based tourism in this area,” said Wilson. “We’d like to use the $47,000 grant we have from the State Highway Administration (SHA) to do a few things to the site to essentially take an old dump and create a great new amenity for this area that brings in dollars and attracts people.”

The improvements Wilson plans to do to the site include building an automatic gate, minor road grading, building a 2,500-square-foot parking lot, an 80-foot wooden walkway and the boat launch itself. Wilson not only needed permission to use the town’s land, but also needed to figure out who was going to assume the liability insurance responsibilities.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres was a bit concerned with the town taking on sole responsibility for something they were essentially passing off to another entity.

“If something happens out there, and the town gets sued, then Ocean City’s going to be the one who’s going to foot the bill for litigation,” argued Ayres. “That money comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket, not the insurance company’s pocket.”

City Manager Dennis Dare said there is a real concern in this situation concerning liability, saying that regardless of who oversees the project itself, the town will always be liable because it owns the land.

“There’s a real question about liability here, because at this point the land is posted as ‘no trespassing’, but if we all of a sudden allow people to go out there and someone gets hurt and sues us, we are liable.  I think the county ought to supervise this venture, Maryland Coastal Bays operate it, and we simply lease out the land to them.”

Dare and Council President Joe Mitrecic both said that they are confident the county, Maryland Coastal Bays and the town will work together to ensure this venture becomes a reality.

“I think the votes were there the other night, as I didn’t see anyone who was against this happening,” said Mitrecic, “but, we need to talk to [Risk Manager] Eric Langstrom and get some more information from Guy [Ayres] and hopefully once we get that worked out, this can move forward.”

Wilson outlined the proposed course, which would give outdoor enthusiasts access to long stretches of the county’s scenic coastal waterways.

“The launch would be on Ayres Creek just off Lewis Road. We’d like to have the kayak trial start there, go down towards the South Point boat ramp for six miles, then proceed up to the Assateague state park boat ramp which is about four miles from there, and potentially be able to go to the West Ocean City harbor which is another 8 miles,” said Wilson.

The site was used as a municipal and rubble dump from 1954-1980, and from 1980-1989, the site was used as a police shooting range. The area has been clean of all toxic materials, and was cleared by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in 2007.

Still, the legal aspects of this seem to be the only thing stopping this from happening, and thus, Council will deliberate with Langstrom and Ayres about the town’s strategy at Tuesday’s Work Session, and hoped to come to an agreement with Wilson and the county.

“I challenge the County Commissioners to get involved with us and have this be a true Worcester County project,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “This could be a blueprint for future projects where the three pieces of this puzzle work together.”