Outcry Leads City To Abandon Beach Vehicle Access Plan

OCEAN CITY – The opposing public was heard loud and clear over the last week, leading resort officials to put an immediate halt to the possibility of allowing vehicles drive on the beach in the offseason.
Last Tuesday afternoon the Mayor and City Council discussed the possibility of having a one-year trial to allow vehicles to drive on a specific section of Ocean City’s beach for surf fishing during the offseason. The council decided last week to move forward with the pilot program contingent upon Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) review and approval.
Following the Mayor and City Council’s discussion, an online petition surfaced. The petition was created on Change.org by Matt Landon, titled “Ocean City, MD Council: Repeal the approval to drive on the beach from Nov.1 to March.31.”
In a matter of days, the petition had received hundreds of supporters, reaching over 900 signatures as of Wednesday morning. The number of signatures increased from over 600 on Tuesday morning to over 800 by that afternoon alone.
Besides the online petition, the town received major backlash through other social media outlets once the news had surfaced. The Dispatch’s post on its Facebook page received over 80 comments that were all negative with the exception of a few.
Councilman Joe Mitrecic began yesterday’s Mayor and Council legislative session by stating due to misrepresentation of local news the public became under the impression the legislative body had made a final decision to allow vehicles on the beach in the upcoming off-season resulting in an influx of opposition. Last week’s motion was approved 6-1, with Councilwoman Margaret Pillas opposed, to approve vehicles on the beach during the off-season for surf fishing only subject to DNR’s review and approval and to create a marketing plan for it.
“I don’t think surf fishing was ever a done deal. It was out there, we were going to have DNR look at it, and possibly come back for discussion again,” he said.
Mitrecic made a motion to withdraw an application submitted to DNR to allow vehicles on the beach and table further discussion until after a series of public hearings would be held to gain public input on the manner.
City Manager David Recor explained following the council’s discussion last week staff had submitted an application to DNR that outlined the town’s proposal to allow vehicles on the beach during the offseason and further dialogue on that issue was contingent upon an approval of DNR.
“I don’t see any reason to give any indication that we are going to form a committee or we are going to look into it,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “I think at this time from what I have perceived … clarity is important in how we address things … one thing I know was clear was, I did not have anybody ask me to support this and I found it to be overwhelming that everybody is in opposition, so I don’t know why we would even want to continue conversation at this time.”
Councilman Brent Ashley made a motion to table the discussion over allowing vehicles on the beach during the off-season permanently and the council voted unanimously to approve the motion.
Last week City Engineer Terry McGean presented, although city staff believed some type of program for over sand vehicles (OSV) on the beach was a feasible concept, staff members did not recommend it. Staff’s primary concern is that unlike Assateague Island or the Delaware State Parks that allow public vehicles on their beach, Ocean City is fully developed on the ocean front.
McGean submitted, on the Assateague/Delaware beaches that allow OSV use, the primary beach users in the OSV area are the OSVs themselves. There is little to no conflict with other beach users, in particular there is little to no east/west pedestrian traffic crossing the OSV travel area. In Ocean City, vehicles traveling up and down the beach would be in conflict with pedestrians walking along the beach and more critically, with pedestrians crossing to and from the beach.
Other concerns included difficulty in controlling access of 13 potential vehicle access points to the beach, extra duties added to the police department to enforce the program, and environmental concerns, such as fuel spills and dune damage.
If the Mayor and City Council decided to move forward with a pilot program to allow vehicles on the beach during the off-season, staff suggested to have the program run from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 1 through March 31 between 27th to 94th streets because there are no access points along the Boardwalk and no access points along the condo row in north Ocean City. The council added allowing vehicles on the beach during the weekends.
Unlimited permits would cost $75 each. Assateague charges $90 and Delaware charges $70 in State and $125 out of State. A permit will require a driver’s license and vehicle registration. The council added the requirement of a surf fishing license as vehicle operators must be engaged in surf fishing to drive on the beach.
Before receiving a permit the applicant will have to acknowledge receipt and reading of rules and regulations, waive City liability, and be responsible for any damage to the beach including fuel spills. Failure to obey rules and regulations results in loss of permit with no refund plus applicable fines.
An owner of a stuck or disabled vehicle will have two hours to have a tow truck remove the vehicle, after that city will remove and take it to the impound lot.
Staff also suggested the city follow similar guidelines and regulations as enforced on Assateague Island, including vehicles must be registered and licensed, no trailers and no ATV’s allowed. Each vehicle must contain minimum equipment of a tow rope, shovel, jack and support and a tire gauge. If a vehicle gets stuck on the beach and does not possess the required equipment, the fine is $75 per piece missing. Additionally, a 15 mph speed limit would be set and joy riding would be prohibited.
The petition opposing vehicles on Ocean City’s beach stated, “Locals wait all summer long for clean, empty, tranquil beaches. Now with this drive-on approval by the Ocean City Mayor and City Council, we can only envision walking over the dune crossing seeing multiple trucks in the place where you would normally surf, practice yoga, run, exercise, let your dog run free or just come to relax. Local residents come out of hiding to enjoy the peacefulness of the Ocean City beaches from October to April.”
The petition pointed out council’s belief allowing vehicles on the beach during the off-season would stimulate Ocean City’s economy but questioned how extra revenue would supersede additional enforcement costs.
“Too many people use the mid-town beaches during the off-season. Please take a step back and reconsider this. Myself and others strongly believe this is a poor decision that was made on the councils behalf and one that shows lack of respect for the ocean and a lack of understanding of the area as a community,” the petition concluded.
The amount of support the petition received in the matter of days surpassed multiple petitions posted on Change.org in the past regarding other Ocean City issues. The “Stop the planned closure of the Ocean Bowl Skate Park”, by Mike Durkin received 489 supporters, “Expand surfing beaches in Ocean City” by Mick Chester received 469 supporters and “Legalizing skateboarding in Ocean City” also created by Mick Chester received 294 supporters.