OCEAN CITY — With the clock ticking on the public comment period for the Assateague Island National Seashore’s General Management Plan (GMP), Ocean City officials this month fired off a letter to National Park Service officials expressing their concern about the future of the north end of the barrier island.
The draft GMP will chart the future of the Assateague Island National Seashore with four alternatives ranging from maintaining the status quo to eventually allowing the barrier island to return to its natural primitive state. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the state and federal partners that manage Assateague will someday let nature run its course and access to the barrier island could be limited and the man-made structures could be allowed to simply disappear when they are lost or damaged during more frequent and more severe storms. Likely somewhere in between is an alternative that will adapt the man-made structures to be more sustainable and possibly remove some from the island altogether while continuing to allow limited public access.
All of those alternatives are now on the table with the release last month of the proposed GMP for Assateague Island National Seashore. With the 90-day public comment period for the draft GMP coming to an end, Ocean City officials continue to keep a close eye on the long-range plan, particularly the sections that pertain to the north end of Assateague and the shared Inlet and last week fired off a letter to Superintendent Debbie Darden expressing their interests in a handful of issues germane to Ocean City.
“As your neighbor to the north, we value the work of the National Park Service to maintain our shared landscape as a resource to the community and to all of our seasonal visitors,” the letter reads. “We hope that the preferred alternative, if selected, will continue to implement successful current management strategies for the future.”
Ocean City Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville prepared the letter after vetting the hefty GMP and presenting his findings of the sections deemed most important to Ocean City to the Coastal Legislative Resources Committee, or “Green Team.” Neville said Ocean City needed to urge NPS officials to look beyond the proposed management plans’ immediate impact on Assateague.
“We believe the management plan needs to address more than just Assateague,” he said. “The potential changes could affect the island’s neighbors including Ocean City, West Ocean City, the Coast Guard, the commercial harbor, Worcester County and our municipal airport.”
One of the four major components of the letter is including Ocean City in any discussions on the future of Assateague because of the resort’s close proximity to the barrier island and the shared resources. Neville told the Mayor and Council on Monday the GMP includes very little information on potential impacts to the island’s neighbor to the north.
“Oddly enough, there are only one or two places in the entire plan that mentions Ocean City,” he said. “We’re recommending the Town of Ocean City be included as a local government partner. I think it would be important for Ocean City to have a seat at the planning table.”
Under Alternative 3, which is the NPS’s preferred alternative, visitor use infrastructure would evolve to more sustainable designs and likely shift to more stable locations both on and off the island. Under Alternative 4, or the most draconian alternative, visitors would continue to use existing facilities and infrastructure until such time as they are lost or damaged by natural coastal processes. Lost or damaged facilities would either not be replaced, or would be minimally replaced with sustainable substitutes.
Ocean City officials are playing close attention to the outcome for each alternative, particularly Alternative 4, which would essentially allow existing man-made structures on the island to eventually just go away naturally. Because the federal government maintains the rock jetty on the south side of the Ocean City Inlet, resort officials would resist any alternative that would let the south jetty fall into disrepair and not be replaced.
It remains unlikely any long-range plan for the management of Assateague would include allowing the south jetty to simply go away over time. However, Neville said while Ocean City would not be directly affected by most of the alternatives, Alternative 4 certainly bears close attention. He suggested the NPS adopt an area of active management for the north end of the island closest to Ocean City regardless of what alternative is chosen.
“An area of active management would be appropriate at the north end in a section six miles long from the Inlet to the state park,” he said. “The Army Corps of Engineers excavates sediment from the Inlet and deposits it on Assateague and that project has been a success. For that reason, we’re asking for the Army Corps to be our federal partner. Before the 12-year Army Corps project expires, we would like them to renew it several years prior for another 20 years. When we look at the Inlet and a storm coming up from the south, that jetty system provides a great deal of protection for Ocean City. If we don’t have that connection from the island to the Inlet, we could see some dramatic changes. It’s a public safety issue.”