OC Officials Fear Major Boardwalk Project Looming

OCEAN CITY — Town officials are concerned that the city’s most famous landmark is long overdue for a massive renovation and soon they expect to know just how massive that project might be.

Monday’s bid openings for a projected six figure deck replacement job between 12th and 13th streets on the Ocean City Boardwalk may just be the beginning, as town officials are quietly planning a total reconstruction of the resort’s famous Boardwalk as early as fall 2012.

City leaders, who have historically been in favor of planning far in advance for infrastructure-related projects, are once again looking down the road as concerns for the structural integrity underneath the 27 block wooden walkway seem to be pointing towards an imminent reconstruction in the next few years.

Although City Manager Dennis Dare is quick to point out that there are no current failures with the Boardwalk itself or any reason to believe that this is an emergency project that will be done in the near future, he is quite forthright in his beliefs that a massive renovation to the Boardwalk is looming in the years ahead.

“With our current situation, there are some things that are really worrying me with this,” said Dare. “The large majority of the infrastructure underneath the Boardwalk deck has been in place since it was completely rebuilt in 1962, and the rest of it hasn’t been improved since 1985. So that’s 40 years in some places and almost 25 years in others, and you have to remember it’s all wood under there.”

The current “situation” that Dare is referring to is essentially the town’s fiscal concerns for the next few years, due to decreased property assessments, and reductions in the resulting tax revenues, which make up 58 percent of what the town brings in each year.

Couple that with the fact the town is currently under a hiring freeze and has tabled seemingly all of its capital projects indefinitely, the biggest proverbial guerrilla that will sit in the room with Dare, Public Works Director Hal Adkins and City Engineer Terry McGean as they plan this long-term project is going to be a flashing neon sign saying, “how are we going to pay for this?

“My best guess is that it would be done in three phases, probably starting no sooner than fall 2012, and would probably be in the range of $30 per square foot,” said Adkins. “With that said, I know that part of the plan may be to entertain a new form of infrastructure under the wooden Boardwalk deck that would be a bit more durable, perhaps concrete beneath the deck, but we are still in the early stages of planning this whole thing, and we’ll know more of what we are going to have to do once we get underneath the boards between 12th and 13th streets.”

Historically, the town has taken five or six of its own Public Works employees and done simple board replacements as needed on the Boardwalk, but with Adkins’ department heaviest hit as far as vacancies due to the town’s hiring freeze, the town has decided to outsource the deck replacement job for the first time ever.

On Monday, the bids for the projected six-figure job (the job is budgeted for $139,000) between 12th and 13th streets will be opened and awarded by the Mayor and City Council, and that job will seemingly serve as a snapshot for what needs to be done to the entire Boardwalk.

Town officials have presumptions to what they are going to find there, and if their guesstimates are correct, the big project they are planning for will become inevitable.

“I expect to see deteriorating pilings under there, but we can also reevaluate how we want to make the infrastructure under there look because we have the sea wall there now,” said Dare. “Essentially, we could build like we would a sidewalk and put the wooden Boardwalk on top of it, which would increase the lifespan.”

Adkins explained that the deterioration of the pilings underneath the Boardwalk is more than likely due to the moisture created by sand and water blowing over the seawall, and being trapped there, causing the entirety of the infrastructure of the Boardwalk, which is all wood, to be damp or moist at all times.

“The seawall goes down 44 feet and is capped by the big blue part that everyone sits on, but that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg,” said Adkins. “Prior to the advent of the seawall, the sand and water would go down in between the boards on the deck and go back into the system, but with the seawall there, it traps it and makes everything wet all the time.  Any carpenter will tell you that when you try to hammer a nail into wet wood, it decreases what they call the ‘purchase’ of the nail or the screw, so when you ride a bike on the Boardwalk and it sounds like the boards beneath you are loose, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the board needs replaced, because you can hammer several nails into a wet piece of wood and you won’t get the ‘purchase’ of one nail into dry wood.”

Monday’s bid opening may be a normal occurrence, but the seemingly small job between 12th and 13th streets is sure to be a project that many in the town are going to be keeping tabs on with great interest.

“We are cautiously concerned,” said Adkins. “We’ll need to plan for this depending on whatever we find under there, and then we are going to have to find a way to fund it.”