OCEAN CITY — While the Army Corps of Engineers will return to the resort area later this month for a short-term dredging project to temporarily fix the chronic shoaling problem in the Ocean City Inlet and commercial harbor, state and local officials continue to push for a long term solution.
The Inlet and the channels in and around the resort area naturally silt in at different times during the year due to a variety of natural and man-made factors and need to be frequently dredged to maintain a navigable depth. The federal Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) maintains the depth of the channels at 10 feet with two feet of overdraft and the Corps’ heavy dredging equipment is a fixture on the resort landscape each spring and fall.
At the prompting of a delegation of local, county and state elected officials, ACE will return to Ocean City later this month to dredge the Inlet again to keep commercial and recreational boat traffic flowing. A massive hopper dredge vessel, named “Currituck,” will conduct the project with a tentative start date of around Aug. 25.
However, it has come to light in recent months the federally authorized 10-foot depth in the Inlet is not sufficient to sustain the multi-million dollar commercial and recreational fishing industries.
This spring, Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C), along with the Ocean City Mayor and Council, the Worcester County Commissioners and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fired off a joint letter urging the Army Corps of Engineers to embark on a long-term plan to dredge the Inlet to 16 feet and the commercial harbor to 14 feet.
The letter cited the 1998 Water Resources Report that predicted many of the problems now occurring with shoaling and dredging nearly two decades ago. The original letter urged the ACE to act on the 1998 report and increase the depths of the Inlet and harbor. The Army Corps has been responsive to a degree.
However, Carozza fired off a second letter to the Army Corps last week urging a quicker long-term solution. The letter raises concerns the Army Corps might step back and take a broader view of the entire watershed without focusing on the immediate problem.
“Specifically, the purpose of this letter is to request that the Army Corps of Engineers narrow its focus to update and use the information and recommendations from the comprehensive 1998 Water Resources report and any other current or recent similar reports to move forward with the immediate study or review and implementation of the reports’ recommendations focusing on resolving the continuing shoaling of the Ocean City Inlet through to the West Ocean City Harbor,” the letter reads. “Unless the focus of the action is confined to the most highly impacted areas, the process will take too long and the resulting action items will be too costly to obtain funding.”
The most recent letter points out the 1998 report identified situations existing then and the likely events to occur as described that have proven over time to be almost totally accurate and have even accelerated and worsened faster than predicted.
“The degree of shoaling in the Ocean City Inlet area has become urgent and unacceptable to the point that it is severely impacting economic and safety issues for both commercial watermen and recreational boaters,” the letter reads. “Several commercial vessels have left the Ocean City area to continue their business in New Jersey.”
While the Army Corps appears willing to address the issue, both long-term and short-term, funding for any major project will likely be an issue. Carozza staffer and commercial and recreational boating advocate Pat Schrawder said this week ACE largely bases funding decisions on the economic impact of the commercial fishing industry in an area.
“The Army Corps bases its dredging schedule on a cost-benefit ratio looking at commercial boats only,” she said. “There aren’t many left here, and when they leave, they conversely impact that cost-benefit ratio.”
In addition, an ACE funding decision will not be based on the level of recreational fishing activity, the importance of which, this week more than any other week of the year, could not be more evident.
“We know there is a lot of recreational boating and fishing activity impacted by this,” she said. “Just look around this week with the White Marlin Open here and that is pretty obvious, but the Army Corps only takes into consideration the level of commercial activity.”
Carozza’s most recent letter urges the ACE to consider an immediate solution to the long-term problem.
“We’re happy they’re going to do the short-term remedial dredging this month, but we’re really pushing for the Corps to follow the 1998 report and dredge the Inlet to 16 feet and the harbor to 14 feet,” Schrawder said. “What we don’t want is for them to start a big study all over again. If they do another two-year study, we’ll lose more and more commercial boats.”