Friday, October 9–Enhanced Fire Protection Eyed For North OP

SNOW HILL – An increase in fire protection capacity in Ocean Pines will cost service area ratepayers more money annually to pay off up to $2.5 million in loans to make the work possible.

An Ocean Pines-commissioned study conducted in 1998 identified areas of inadequate fire protection infrastructure, which did not meet municipal fire protection standards. Water lines, according to that study, were often too narrow and hydrants were spaced too widely.

The analysis resulted in improvements made in 2003 and 2004, at a cost of $1 million. Those improvements were made only south of the Route 90 overpass.

Now county plans call for wider water lines and more hydrants to be added in northern Ocean Pines. The work in the north end will fulfill the remaining recommendations made in the 1998 report.

The project is the first priority for the Ocean Pines Water and Wastewater Advisory Board.

“I commend the water and wastewater group for taking the initiative on this project,” said Ocean Pines Association General Manager Tom Olson during the project public hearing held Tuesday. Enhancing the community’s fire protection capacity will protect residents’ health and safety, he said.

“I think it’s very necessary we have adequate fire protection of our property … it just sounds like a lot of money,” said Ocean Pines resident Grant Helvey during the public hearing.

The County Commissioners voted unanimously to pursue the Ocean Pines waster system improvement project, which should start in the spring and be finished within six months.

John Tustin, Worcester County director of public works, said he hoped the work would be completed by the summer.

EDU charges will go up from $25 to $28 per year to pay for the improvements, which should work out to about $7 per quarterly water bill.

The rate increase will apply to all Ocean Pines water and wastewater service area ratepayers, staff said.

“Is there any offset here?” asked Worcester County Commissioner Virgil Shockley during project discussions at Tuesday’s county commissioner meeting.

When the water system in Newark was upgraded, property owners received a deduction on their insurance bills, Shockley pointed out, because of better fire protection.

The situation in Ocean Pines is different than in Newark, Tustin said, which had no water system for local fire protection before the changes were made, a significant difference in fire protection infrastructure.

Homeowners’ insurance policies do include a clause on proximity to fire protection, county administrator Gerry Mason noted.

The size of the line, whether two inches wide or eight inches, does not seem to be included in insurance policies, said Commissioner Judy Boggs.

“We’d be adding additional hydrants also,” said Tustin. 

Rating agencies are currently surveying county water systems for fire protection capacity, said Tustin, which could have an effect on insurance rates.

During the public hearing, Helvey said he had researched the question of a reduction in insurance premiums that would offset the increased EDU fees by calling his own insurance company.

“She advised me there were essentially no known deficits of the Ocean Pines water system with regard to fire protection,” Helvey said.