OCEAN CITY — Despite the blowing rain, gusting winds, flooded streets, road closures and deteriorating driving conditions, they came anyway.
The annual H2O International (H2Oi) event is one local law enforcement and residents circle on the calendar each fall, but the conventional thinking heading into the weekend was the Nor’easter camped off the coast of the resort and the ominous potential arrival of Hurricane Joaquin would deter the crowds of tricked-out Volkswagons, Audis and other sports cars of all makes and models. Contrary to that belief, thousands of them arrived.
The H2Oi event started to make its presence felt by mid-week, and by Friday afternoon, traffic along Coastal Highway looked similar to the Fourth of July right after the fireworks. Tens of thousands of vehicles, a large percentage of which were H2Oi-type cars, crept along inch by inch and block by block. There were a handful of accidents, most of which appeared to be of the fender-bender, rear-ender variety, but there was a vehicle on fire Saturday on Coastal Highway that required the Ocean City Fire Department and a large number of burnouts up and down the island, but by and large, despite the size of the crowd, they were slightly better behaved this year, according to Ocean City Police spokesperson Lindsay Richard this week.
“Despite the significant weather event, a large number of event participants attended Ocean City over the weekend,” she said. “We saw nearly a 30-percent drop in calls for service compared to 2014, but our officers were still very busy.”
Weekend numbers provided by the OCPD appear to bear out that sentiment. For example, the total number of calls for service to the OCPD went from 2,318 in 2014 to 1,703 last weekend. The total number of traffic stops dropped from 1,033 over the four-day event in 2014 to just 680 in 2015. The number of traffic citations issued held steady from 715 in 2014 to 710 last weekend. The number of traffic warnings issued spiked from 410 last year to 713 during the 2015 event.
Complicating the thousands of H2Oi participants was the weather with a days-long Nor’easter setting up shop in the mid-Atlantic region and the threat of Hurricane Joaquin lurking. The storm caused Ocean City Emergency Services including the OCPD to divert some resources away from traffic and crime prevention.
“Not only were our officers busy with the event, but many officers were forced to shift their duties and tend to damage and road closures caused by the storm,” she said. “Minimal arrests were made over the weekend and no significant criminal events occurred. Also, we were thankful that there were no significant traffic collisions.”
There was a strong police presence visible throughout the weekend with the OCPD joined by the Maryland State Police, Worcester County Sheriff’s deputies and Maryland Natural Resources Police practically on every other corner. With lights flashing and sirens wailing in the distance, along with the associated storm preparations and city and utility trucks everywhere, there was an appearance of a state-of-emergency or Marshall Law in a sense and what should have likely been a somewhat deserted Ocean City looked more like a rainy Saturday in August.
The officially sanctioned H2Oi event is headquartered at Fort Whaley along Route 50 in Whaleyville, but like most motorized special events, there is an in-kind number or often larger number of participants that don’t take part in the official event. It’s important to note the H2Oi event is not sanctioned by the Town of Ocean City, but because of the resort’s close proximity to Whaleyville, most if not all make their way into Ocean City at some point throughout the weekend.
Like the OCPD, the Maryland State Police Berlin Barrack was prepared for the event last weekend and called in reserves from barracks in Salisbury and Princess Anne as well as the MSP Auto Safety Division and the MSP Mobile Field Force. The combined MSP forces, which included 75 troopers, conducted 460 traffic stops, issued 139 citations, 271 warnings and 30 safety equipment repair orders.
Event detractors continue to complain about the traffic, noise and wanton disregard of the rules by at least some of the H2Oi hangers-on and with good reason in many cases. However, it appears the event puts heads in beds, at least based on the city’s demoflush figures for the weekend. While the numbers aren’t all easily attributable to H2Oi, with the storm and other special events for the weekend canceled, they were fairly impressive for what they’re worth.
For example, according to the OCPD’s numbers, on Thursday, there were 147,447 people in town and that number spiked to a weekend-high of 243,923, which rivals a strong summer weekend day. On Saturday, the number dropped to 215,067, still an impressive number considering the storm and the deteriorating conditions. By Sunday, it had dropped back down to 168,479.
In advance of the weekend, the OCPD and its allied agencies were more proactive this year. In a statement released last week in advance of the H2Oi event, OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro outlined the department’s enforcement plans.
“Due to the increased number of visitors that we are anticipating during this event, you should expect to see a large police presence during your stay,” the statement read. “Our highest priority is to keep our residents and visitors safe, in addition to ensuring a positive quality of life by using friendly, fair and firm enforcement.”
At Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting, Councilman and Police Commissioner Chair Doug Cymek, praised the proactive stance by the OCPD and its allies during the H2Oi event.
“From Thursday night to Sunday night, there were 37 arrests, seven of which were DUIs,” he said. “The rest were traffic and criminal charges. The OCPD did a fantastic job. There were a number of incidents that flared up, but the police department did a phenomenal job.”