Friday, Dec 11–Senator Pledges Beach Support

OCEAN CITY — As the job to repair Ocean City’s damaged dune system is carefully mapped out, the silver lining post the catastrophic “storm of the decade” seems to be a general concurrence from the Inlet all the way to Annapolis on the merits of the nearly $100 million in tax dollars spent since 1994 on the beach replenishment project.

Ocean City officials gave the Nor-Ida storm damage tour to another politician this week, as United States Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) perhaps followed the lead of Congressman Frank Kratovil (D-District 1) in seeing the damage of the storm up close and personal.

“Senator Cardin called me before the storm had even ended,” said Mayor Rick Meehan, “and he pledged his support then and there without even knowing the full scope of the damages. He just so happened to be in town giving a speech and asked to have a look at the damages and survey the scene himself.”

Meehan said that Cardin was most impressed with how well the beach replenishment project had held up against the immense three-day storm in mid-November, despite acknowledging the inherent need for almost immediate repair to the damaged portions of the dunes and was “extremely interested” in gaining as much information as possible to take back to his colleagues in the U.S. Senate.

“He recognized the need for replacing the dune system immediately and he believes that the project deserves the funding that it has been allocated over the years,” said Meehan. “If anything, this storm proved that the project works and it did work in this case exactly the way it was supposed to.”

City Engineer Terry McGean said that the Army Corps of Engineers project manager also took the tour with Cardin and Meehan, seemingly on a bit of a “fact finding mission”, according to McGean.

“[Senator Cardin] couldn’t promise us anything, but he is extremely supportive of us getting the funding to get all the repairs and the replenishment done as soon as possible,” said McGean.

Part of Cardin’s fact-finding mission included the estimated property values saved by having the dune system in place. According to Meehan, the city estimates that since 1994, more than $238 million in assessable properties have been saved because of the project.

“That statistic certainly shows the ratio between what was spent versus what we have saved,” said Meehan. “Senator Cardin felt that it was very important to know the exact number in savings so he could take those figures back to his colleagues and substantiate the project to those who may not have seen it with their own eyes.”

Some have speculated that despite the town of Ocean City getting numerous nods of support from political entities and the murmurs of disdain for the beach replenishment project all but silenced since last month’s storm headed out to sea, that the town is in fact lobbying to political entities to ensure funding for the future of the beach replenishment project.

“In these times, we can’t take anything for granted,” said Meehan. “We have gained a huge amount of support for this project, and we feel that it has proven its value in an effective manner, but we want this project to be at the top of the list when funding gets allocated in the future.”

The Army Corps of Engineers told Ocean City officials two weeks ago that the cost to repair and replenish between almost 600,000 cubic yards of sand into the dune system would be at least $10 million. In addition, $11 million was already allotted for a scheduled (every four years) beach replenishment this spring.

According to the Corps’ cost estimates, the emergency dune repair will be at least $1.5 million, while replenishing the eroded beach is estimated at $8.5 million.

“The Army Corps of Engineers will be asking the federal government for the $10 million to repair the damage from the storm, and although we may get some support from FEMA, it appears that we will be getting most if not all of our help from the Corps,” said McGean.

In the next 30 days, the “trucking in” portion of the emergency replenishment to the damaged areas is expected to begin, and the “dredging portion” of the project will be closer to the spring, said McGean.

The beach replenishment project, which was started in 1991 as a way to protect Ocean City from catastrophic storm damage and debilitating beach erosion similar to the 1933 storm that famously broke Assateague Island and Ocean City apart, the infamous 1962 storm and Hurricane Gloria in 1985.

At the very least, the interest from several politicians, including Cardin’s most recent visit can be chalked up as a positive for the town of Ocean City and the future funding of the beach replenishment project as a whole, according to the mayor.

“As we continue to gain support for what this project means to the town of Ocean City and the revenue it creates for the state, I think we will hear much less from the naysayers of the project, as I think it most certainly proved it’s worth,” said Meehan.