City Approves Airport Tree Planting Request

OCEAN CITY – The town’s municipal airport will receive new landscaping as a result of reconstruction to a runway and new fencing, helping to prevent pollution from running into surrounding waterways.

A request came before the Mayor and Council to use Critical Area mitigation funds for tree planting at the Ocean City Municipal Airport at this week’s meeting.

According to Ocean City Environmental Engineer Gail Blazer, the town collects Critical Area mitigation money during the development process when projects don’t meet certain landscaping and habitat enhancement thresholds. These funds are to be used for landscaping and habitat-related projects and programs.

According to Public Works Director Hal Adkins, the town has recently gained approval from the FAA to commence reconstruction of a runway at the airport.

The project includes a few thousand feet of fencing to be installed as a Wildlife Management mechanism to control the deer population on the property and was required to receive approval of the Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals due to set back issues.

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In order to be approved, the county has requested that the fencing be paired with landscaping on the roadside of the fence on Route 611 and Airport Road.

Blazer explained that landscaping costs are not an eligible grant expense with the FAA. However she has previously requested a location to complete a tree planting effort as a public outreach project, but officials were unable to accommodate her at that time.

“Every year I am contacted by groups who want to help with tree planting,” Blazer submitted. “This airport-related project would be a great opportunity to involve the public and educate them on the benefits of native plants and landscaping. We have approval from the Critical Area Commission representative to utilize the funds for this project because the Critical Area Mitigation money is intended to be used for this purpose.”

The request was to utilize up to $40,000 of the Critical Area Mitigation money to be allocated to this project, and $2,500 of the funding will be used to develop a detailed landscaping plan that will include a Bayscapes garden and signage at the corner entrance to Airport Road. Currently, there is $148,000 in the Critical Area Mitigation account.

Councilman Joe Hall expressed concern over spending the Critical Area Mitigation funds off island.

“I was involved when we first started creating our critical area and creating these funds, and really I believe that money is supposed to be spent on island and in the area which it was mitigated,” he said.

Joe Hall added that the money is to be used to prevent pollution accessing the bay.

“I would rather it be kept for developing storm drains at street ends and a better filtration system then spend a third of it off island out where it isn’t doing a whole lot more than the grass that is already there,” he said.

Blazer disagreed. She explained that the funds are dedicated to be used not only for stormwater projects but also habitat-related projects and programs.

“Trees, plants, and shrubs pick up a lot more nutrients, phosphorus and nitrogen’s, and then grass does … before it gets into the bay and that why planting trees is the best thing a urban area can do,” she said and added that she is working on developing other projects on island as well.

The council voted 4-2, Councilmen Brent Ashley and Joe Hall opposed, to approve Blazer’s request. The plan is conduct the planting as an Earth Day Event on April 21.