Sand Dunes Credited For Limiting Flooding

OCEAN CITY — Thanks to the sand dunes, Ocean City escaped the worst storm to hit the resort in over a decade last week with minimal damage.

Aesthetically, Ocean City took a bit of a thumping from what City Engineer Terry McGean called the “Friday the 13th storm and the worst since 1998” as the downtown areas of Ocean City was underwater and flooded from the rise of the bay. On the ocean side, almost a quarter to one half of the dune system has eroded away as 20-foot waves pushed water levels to the various property lines along the coast.

Yet, when McGean briefed the Mayor and Council on Monday night at City Hall, he described the evident silver lining after one of the most blustery weekends the town has seen in years.

“Without the beach and dunes [they work together], we would have had ocean flooding,” said McGean. “We saw the extent of flooding from the bay, now imagine that same thing coming from the ocean, only this time with the force of 20-foot waves behind it. We would likely have suffered moderate building and structural damage, severe oceanside street flooding with sand piled up in the streets and first-floor buildings. Instead, our damage was limited to some sand in the Inlet parking lot, some damaged Christmas decorations and some damage to the Chicago Avenue bayside boardwalk.”

Public Works Director Hal Adkins said that almost three feet of sand had piled in the southeast section of the Inlet Parking lot, forcing crews to create a two-way traffic pattern until the piles of sand could be removed.

Onlookers have sporadically visited the Inlet to survey the scene with their own eyes, including a mountain of sand piled all the way up to the pier and scattered debris, according to Adkins.

Adkins, too, praised the town’s dune system.

“Ocean City seemed to fare much better then our counterparts to the south and north of us thanks specifically to our dune system,” he said. “Had the dune system not been in place, I feel assured we’d be cleaning a lot of sand and debris off Coastal Highway from 27th Street north to the Delaware line, and our oceanfront property owners would have a lot of home repairs to complete.”

Usually, this is a busy week for the Public Works Department anyway, as the final touches to the grandiose Winterfest of Lights are completed, but this week Adkins said that it was essentially “all hands on deck” to clean up what the storm left behind.

“The entire construction department spent the first half of this week with front-end loaders and dump trucks clearing debris from the beach, which was mostly mangled piles of 4x4s all tied together with rope that use to be the perimeter fencing along the east toe of the primary dune,” said Adkins. “The Maintenance Department focused on fine cleaning the Boardwalk and reconstructing any damaged portions of Winterfest.”

There were no major damages to the light displays at Winterfest of Lights, largely because the majority of the downtown displays were victim to budget cuts last year, and weren’t caught in the storm. Adkins said that some of the Christmas trees along Baltimore Avenue and Coastal Highway were blown over.

“If those displays had been out there as we had in year’s past, we would have had a substantial amount of cost to the town in replacement costs, probably between $75,000-100,000,” said City Manager Dennis Dare.

McGean met with the Department of Natural Resources and FEMA this week to fully assess the extent of the erosion damage and what will need to be done to restore the beach back to it’s pre-storm appearance.

Ironically, there was a planned beach replenishment project set for spring of 2010, as part of the ongoing program that has pumped sand onto Ocean City beaches usually on an annual basis since 1994.

The town had allotted $500,000 for the project this year, with Worcester County matching those funds and the state scheduled to pay $1 million for beach replenishment in 2010, as per the terms of the contract as explained by Dare.

McGean said the town has received offers of help and support from the state’s political figureheads as well as federal disaster relief organizations like FEMA.

“We are working with FEMA, MEMA, the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Natural Resources to fully assess the damage to the beach and come up with a plan and funds for its repair,” said McGean. “Clean up is in process. We should have all the loose debris off the beach within two weeks, and we are working with DNR on an emergency contract to remove the rest of the damaged sand fence and move sand from those areas that gained sand to repair the dunes with the most damage. We hope to have a contract in place in 30-60 days and I would expect work to take 30 days.”

Still, the biggest project will be to fully restore the proverbial hero of the storm of the decade, the town’s dune system, according to town officials.

“The important thing to note is that the [beach replenishment] project did its job,” said McGean. “The dunes have grown naturally overtime and provided us with a great amount of protection, and we still have a good amount of protection left. Lastly, you have to remember that we lost sand and some fence, not property or lives.”