OCEAN CITY — With construction underway on the resort’s new public boat ramp at 64th Street, Ocean City officials this week agreed on a plan for the existing boat ramp in the Little Salisbury community that has been a source of consternation for many for years.
When the funding was approved and the new boat ramp was designed at 64th Street in an area adjacent to the town’s existing public works complex, the fate of the old boat ramp in the Little Salisbury community in the area of 94th Street remained in question. As early as 2000, residents of Little Salisbury began bringing their concerns over increased traffic, noise, trash and other nuisances to the attention of the Mayor and Council.
However, while sympathetic to the residents’ concerns, the Mayor and Council’s hands were tied somewhat on regulating the boat ramp in terms of hours of operation, etc. Because the ramp was paid for with a Maryland Department of Natural Resources grant through the Waterway Improvement Fund, there were limits on the types of restrictions the city could put on the Little Salisbury ramp.
For example, the ramp had to be made available to the public regardless of residency, reasonable operating hours had to be maintained and the fee to launch had to be $10 or less. Originally, the Mayor and Council set the hours of operation from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., but the closing hour was amended to 6 p.m. in 2004 after more concerns by residents in the community were addressed.
Nearly two decades later, the new public boat ramp at 64th Street is finally under construction and targeted for a completion date prior to the next summer season, but the fate of the old boat ramp at Little Salisbury remained in question. On Tuesday, City Engineer Terry McGean presented a recommendation ultimately passed by the council with a few tweaks that would allow the existing ramp to remain in operation on a limited basis.
Among the options were leaving the facility as an attended ramp and adjusting the fee and hours of operation; leaving it as an attended ramp or an automated gate ramp but restricting the use is some way to include Ocean City or even Little Salisbury residents only; selling or leasing the ramp to another entity such as the Little Salisbury Civic Association, or removing the ramp altogether.
On Tuesday, McGean recommended a hybrid approach including an unattended boat ramp with an automated gate. Local residents will be able to buy a seasonal pass to operate the carded gate at a fair price. No decision was made yet by $50 was bandied around on Tuesday and the pass would only be available for property owners.
Little Salisbury Civic Association Board members Jay Phillips and Peck Miller were on hand and agreed the proposed future use of the old boat ramp made sense. Phillips provided a brief history of the ramp, including its original use for residents of the community only.
“Our position is, the original intent was for use by the Little Salisbury community,” he said. “When the facility began to fall into disrepair, the community didn’t have the money to fix it up and the prior administration of our association entered an agreement with the city and the city took it over and maintained it for the benefit of anybody who wanted to use it.”
Phillips said the community desired to have the ramp remain open with some limitations on its use.
“We don’t want it have to be closed,” he said. “We like the idea of an automated gate with a card and a payment on an annual basis. The main problem has been the lack of a staging area for trailers and Little Salisbury has had to live with that. With the addition of a new ramp at 64th Street, it takes the pressure off us.
Miller said many of the problems in the past had come in the late-night hours and urged the council to consider some limits on the hours of operation.
“It would be nice to limit the hours of operation so those streets aren’t inundated,” he said. “It has been kind of tough the last few years.”
Phillips also asked if there was any way to prevent certain members of the boating public from entering the gated boat ramp in the off-hours after several problems have occurred.
“Some enterprising mechanics would unlock the gate with a socket set and unscrew the hinges and put their boat in the water at 1 a.m.,” he said. “They would bypass the gate and we had that happen a couple of times.”
McGean said while no design was completely fool-proof, a new automated gate system could have some safeguards.
“We would collect the money and manage it, similar to what we do with the dog park,” he said. “We could program the gate so if you tried to use your card on off-hours, it wouldn’t work. Can we make it completely vandal-proof? We can make it more vandal-proof, but if somebody decided to come in with a circular saw, there really isn’t much we could do about that.”
There was considerable discussion about who should be able to use it, whether it be residents of Little Salisbury only, or Ocean City residents or even open to the public. After some debate, it was decided to allow access to anyone who purchased the $50 seasonal pass for the first year and see if any problems occur.
“For the first year, we can try to have it open for anybody who wants to use it and acquires the card,” said Councilmember Mary Knight. “We can always come back and revisit this if there are any problems.”
McGean said when the new public ramp opens at 64th Street, some of the user questions for the old ramp would probably go away.
“There’s a free ramp 30 blocks away,” he said. “I’m not sure we’re going to see a lot of people who want to pay $50 for this one except the people who live there and use the ramp on a fairly consistent basis.”
Councilman Dennis Dare has been on the front lines of the boat ramp battle for years, first as former city manager and later as councilman. After listening to the discussion, Dare agreed the plan as proposed was a good one with an amendment to the motion added to include access for all during an emergency.
“It’s been a very painful experience with the prior issues with that boat ramp,” he said. “I think this works and it’s been a long time coming. I think we could have that open when we have a storm warning or watch because a lot of people want to pull their boats out and I think we should allow for that.”
Mayor Rick Meehan asked about the potential cost of an automated gate. McGean explained it would likely cost between $20,000 and $30,000, but there was likely funding available in the construction budget for the new ramp. In addition, the cost of paying for someone to attend the existing ramp along with benefits costs an estimated $30,000, so the proposal is considered a win-win for the city in the long run.
“It’s a great plan,” said Meehan. “We’ve come a long way with boat ramps in Ocean City.”