City Manager Recounts Last Major Boardwalk Project

OCEAN CITY — It may not be an emergency project like it was in 1985, but for City Manager Dennis Dare, future plans to reconstruct the Ocean City Boardwalk in 2012 take him back to the morning after Hurricane Gloria passed through Ocean City in 1985.

City Manager Dennis Dare remembers the last time much of the Boardwalk needed to be replaced, as he was at the helm of the arduous task to replace almost 80 percent of the entire infrastructure that had been ravaged by Hurricane Gloria in September of 1985.

Back then, Dare, who was the town’s city engineer at the time, had less than a year to get the Boardwalk from a danger zone back to a tourist destination as the goal was to have it ready to go by Memorial Day.

Yet, as the town starts to make plans for a massive reconstruction of the Boardwalk some 25 years later, Dare said that although they have more time to plan and complete the project, it doesn’t make the job any easier.

“Back then, what we didn’t have was time or money, but we ended up putting the last board back into place on March 12, 1986 which was well before our deadline,” said Dare. “Now as we look ahead, we need to address a few things and find the best way and the best materials to make it last for as long as possible.”

Dare remembers the morning after Hurricane Gloria finally left the region, as he was hunkered down in the Maryland State Police barracks with half of the City Council and other various town officials. He said when they came back to Ocean City what he saw made him nauseous.

“I remember when we were coming back across the Route 50 bridge and as we were coming down to Philadelphia Avenue I saw this huge deck laying in Philadelphia Avenue and I thought ‘oh, man, someone lost their deck off their house,’” said Dare, “but then I saw the 4 x 6 creosote stringers and I realized that it was a huge chunk of the Boardwalk laying in the middle of the street by the Texaco station at the base of the bridge. I just got sick to my stomach when I saw that.”

What followed was an intense cleanup process that stretched from 27th Street all the way to N. Division Street, as portions of the Boardwalk had been blown into the streets of Ocean City.

“We cleaned up the beach, and used a vibrating hammer to drive down the infrastructure pilings that were still usable,” said Dare. “I remember it took the council quite a long time to decide on the final design for the new Boardwalk, and I think in the end, our budget was $2 million and we got it done for about $1.8 million.”

In addition to the massive reconstruction, the other notable aesthetic to the project was the fact that the Boardwalk, which previously had boards running horizontally, were now laid diagonally, (as they are today) upon Dare’s plan to increase the longevity of the lifespan of the boards from the constant pressure from the Boardwalk tram.

As far as contracting the job to replace the Boardwalk, Dare said that the future contracts for the replacement will mirror what they did in 1985.

“We hired three contractors: a national guy, a regional guy, and a local builder from Ocean Pines, and we basically kept them apart from each other and gave them three blocks at a time,” said Dare. “I told them that whoever works the fastest, would get the most work and make the most money, and ironically it was the local guy that got the most work.”

Ironically, the “local guy” that Dare is referring to was Dick Malone, who now oversees the entire construction, maintenance and solid waste departments for the town of Ocean City.

Dare said he was so impressed with Malone’s work ethic and performance, he personally hired him almost a year later when a recycling coordinator position was created in Ocean City.

Although the project cost just under $2 million in 1985, Dare said that the future project will be much more expensive, reporting the town will more than likely have to go to the bond market to fund the project, which according to town officials, would more than likely begin in fall of 2012.

In addition, the town is toying around with alternative materials for the new design, such as synthetic wood from Scandinavia that is more durable than the current Southern Yellow Pine that makes up the Boardwalk now.

The current decking was milled in Mississippi, treated in Baltimore and then shipped to Ocean City, but Dare said that finding that much wood is going to be the hardest part.

“It’s very hard to find, and it’s very much in demand, especially when we are ordering as much as we will have to,” said Dare. “We are looking at and going to be testing a number of different options as we plan for the project.”

One idea that Dare mentioned included the creation of a concrete tram lane, that would essentially run down the middle of the Boardwalk with the wood decking on either side of the tram lane.  Dare says it would increase the longevity of the Boardwalk tremendously.

“It would be as simple as putting in a sidewalk and then we could have the boards on both sides,” said Dare. “It might help with foot traffic, and they’d know exactly where the tram is going to be going when they hear that horn blowing behind them.”

Regardless, Dare knows that planning for a future project years away, albeit a grandiose one, is far better than scrambling to reconstruct the town’s most treasured commodity in a mere six months.

“[Gloria] was the worst storm I’ve ever seen,” he said. “That’s the closest I ever want to be to a hurricane again.”