Council Votes 5-2 For Wooden Boardwalk

OCEAN CITY – The Boardwalk’s traditional wooden deck will remain, due to the City Council’s vote after Monday night’s spirited public hearing on the future of the oceanfront strip.

The town conducted an Ocean City Renovation Project Online Opinion Poll from Jan. 24-Feb. 28. The end result was option one with an all wooden deck in first place with 9,774 votes, or 50.6 percent of the votes.

Option three, which is a board surface with a stamped concrete train lane to resemble wooden boards, came in second with 6,571 votes. In third place was option two, a wooden board surface with a concrete train lane with 2,962 votes.

“Basically, 50 percent preferred wood and the other 50 percent preferred concrete,” City Engineer Terry McGean said during Monday night’s Mayor and City Council meeting. “I was somewhat surprised I would have bet the house that wood would have run away with it, it was a little bit of a surprise of how concrete came through.”

Ocean City’s Boardwalk extends from the Inlet to 27th Street and is 11,850 feet long. North Division Street to the Inlet was last renovated in 1999-2000.

“That portion of the Boardwalk used to be all concrete and we replaced the concrete with wood and added the concrete train lane,” McGean said.

North Division Street to 27th street was re-decked over a period of time, between 2003 and 2007. McGean said that the last time the north end structure, the portion below the deck, was addressed was subsequent to Hurricane Gloria in 1986.

The Boardwalk was widened from 10th to 27th streets by eight feet in 1991. Many of the piles and beams under the Boardwalk are over 50 years old, according to McGean.

“We’re encountering what in the past we never had…the Boardwalk is dying of old age instead of being wiped out by a storm,” McGean said.

The Boardwalk’s issue is its deteriorating deck boards, accelerated fastener corrosion, soft wood in stringers casing nails to pop and old and rotting structural members. With the council’s vote to build the new Boardwalk with all wooden deck, the work will include from 4th to 27th streets the removal of all of the deck, stringers and beams. The piles will be cut off to elevation to support new concrete piles stingers. New concrete grade beams will be installed over the existing piles and stringers. Pervious stone will be filled in between the grade beams beneath the stringers to support heavy vehicle load on the Boardwalk and the new wood deck will finish it off.

The all wooden deck is the most expensive out of the three options. McGean estimated that in a 50-year life cycle wooden boards would cost the town $16.7 million, while the plain concrete train lane would cost $14.6 million, and the stamped concrete would cost $15.5 million.

Several Ocean City residents and visitors spoke during the public hearing, all supporting the tradition of an all wooden deck on the Boardwalk.

Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) Executive Director Glenn Irwin recommended the new Boardwalk’s surface be all wood, with the proper substructure that would be cost effective.

“The real wood planking is what makes the Boardwalk special,” Irwin said.

Boardwalk Development Association (BDA) President Vicki Barrett said members of the BDA were polled on the choices presented for renovating the Boardwalk.

“The Boardwalk Development Association is in support of reinforcing the substructure of the Boardwalk with a long lasting material,” Barrett said. “The majority of the members favored continuing the use of wood planking for the top structure; tradition means a lot in Ocean City.”

Council Secretary Lloyd Martin kicked off the council’s discussion by immediately placing a motion to approve an all wooden deck for the new Boardwalk.

“I am partial to the boards [wood]…and what the letters and people are saying is the boards are the way to go,” Martin said.

Councilman Brent Ashley asserted that the concrete train lane would be more preferable from a public safety standpoint because it would support heavy vehicles, such as fire trucks, better than the all wooden decking. It would also be better for vehicle parades on the Boardwalk as well.

Councilman Joe Hall pointed out that if an additional $2 million of upfront costs is spent for an all wooden deck, what on the list of capital improvements is going to be sacrificed.

“To sacrifice another capital improvement I don’t think is the right way to go,” he said.

He added that a renovated Boardwalk with a concrete train lane will still generate the great memories that were expressed in all the letters and support of all wooden deck.

City Manager Dennis Dare said the Boardwalk would most likely be funded by a bond.

McGean explained that the funding through bonds could be split up so that a bond could cover the life of the substructure and another could cover the life of the decking.

“When we did the Boardwalk in the past, we bonded it for 20 years even though the deck only lasted for 10 but you could do it both ways,” he said.

Councilman Doug Cymek said that he had a thought that the new found revenue stream coming in from Ocean Downs could be used to retire the bond debt over a 15- to 20-year period so the taxpayers could be relieved of the cost.

“The Boardwalk has to be fixed, it has to be done and has to be prepared so we’re going to figure out how to get it done,” Council President Jim Hall said.

Mayor Rick Meehan said the visitors have a certain level of expectation when they come to Ocean City.

“Those four million visitors that arrive…the next summer when this project is completed there going to be looking to see a wooden Boardwalk,” he said. “There’s a certain expectation and I think there’s a cost to providing that and that’s what has helped make Ocean City so successful.”

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas had previously remarked that Ocean City’s Boardwalk is one of the very few left in the United States.

“We’re ranked one of the best Boardwalks in the country…that’s a dying breed and we’re able to maintain it here,” Meehan said. “You can go walk on a concrete road or sidewalk anywhere in this country but there are very few places you can walk on a Boardwalk and one as magnificent as ours on the ocean front. We would be disappointing millions of visitors who came to Ocean City if we didn’t maintain that boardwalk.”

The council voted 5-2 to maintain the boardwalk with the all wooden deck, with Joe Hall and Brent Ashley in opposition.

“The Boardwalk will be wood,” Jim Hall said.