Resort Residents Concerned About Unmanned Boat Ramp Plan

OCEAN CITY — The town’s plan to leave the existing public boat ramp in the Little Salisbury community unattended when the new facility at 64th Street opens next year continues to rankle at least some residents in the otherwise quiet neighborhood.

Last month, ground was broken on the new public boat ramp at 64th Street, setting in motion a series of future operational plans for both the new facility and the decades-old public boat ramp in the Little Salisbury community. Several options were considered, including leaving the facility as an attended ramp and adjusting the fees and hours of operation; installing an automated gate system and restricting its use to Ocean City or even Little Salisbury residents only; leasing or selling the ramp to another private entity; or removing the ramp altogether.

After considerable debate last month, the Mayor and Council voted to support City Engineer Terry McGean’s recommendation for a hybrid solution of sorts including an unattended boat ramp with an automated gate. Boaters would be able to purchase a seasonal pass for an estimated $50 and swipe a card to gain access to the boat ramp in Little Salisbury. The conventional thinking is most will use the new and improve public boat ramp at 64th Street with its ample parking and better amenities, while the existing ramp would be used by far fewer boaters, mostly local residents, who purchase the annual pass.

The proposal was endorsed by the Little Salisbury Civic Association at the meeting in July, but some in the neighborhood closest to the existing boat ramp continue to push for having the ramp attended. The Little Salisbury ramp was originally unattended, but as early as 2000, residents there began bringing their concerns over increased traffic, noise, trash and other nuisances to the attention of the Mayor and Council.

The elected officials responded by employing an attendant to monitor and regulate the public boat ramp in Little Salisbury and that system has remained in place since. However, with the opening of the new ramp anticipated next year, the city has decided to eliminate the boat ramp attendant and switch to an automated gate system with a swipe card for those who purchase the yearly pass. Some in the community, however, fired off a letter to the Mayor and Council this week voicing concern about the plan. The letter, authored by resident Bob Creamer on behalf of several residents who live in close proximity to the ramp, explains how the community urged the city to provide an attendant many years ago.

“The Council saw the validity of this argument and made the necessary adjustments to keep the residents of this neighborhood safe,” the letter signed by about 10 residents in close proximity to the ramp reads. “The way they did this was by having a human presence to check for persons who may be intoxicated, not properly licensed and those simply up to no good, all while charging a nominal fee. This has worked very well for many years and the persons that would cause trouble quickly learned that this behavior would no longer be accepted.”

However, the letter suggests the traffic, noise, trash and other illicit behavior will return when the town removes the attendant from the old ramp.

“My concern is that as soon as you take away the human presence and make it a simple fee open to anyone that can pay $50 per year, we, the residents, will be subject to all the public safety issues that were present before the change to man and control the boat ramp were put in place,” the letter reads. “The fact is, this residential neighborhood is not set up to be a public boat ramp and without human supervision, the safety issues we had in the past will return quickly as word spreads of the ‘free for all’ at the 86th Street boat ramp just as it did in the past.”

The letter urges the city to reconsider the plan to remove the attendant.

“This will undoubtedly put our families in jeopardy and certainly lower the quality of life for the residents most affected,” the letter reads. “I ask that you reconsider this move to control access with a swipe card in lieu of keeping the ramp monitored and controlled by a human presence.”

In response, McGean said he is confident the old problems with the Little Salisbury ramp will be alleviated because most will use the new and improved ramp.

“The only way to access the ramp will be to purchase an annual pass from City Hall estimated at $50,” he said. “Given that a free ramp with parking will be available at 64th Street, paying $50 for the pass to use the old ramp will discourage all but few local residents from using it. This will dramatically reduce traffic and, therefore, eliminate the need for an attendant.”

McGean said a review of other public boat ramps in the area revealed most are unattended. He also said there were financial implications as well.

“Every other boat ramp in Worcester County operates fine without the need for an attendant,” he said. “The annual cost for the attendant including wage and benefits was almost $30,000. Revenue from the ramp last year was less than $12,000. The concept was endorsed by the Little Salisbury Civic Association and other residents in the neighborhood who attended the meeting.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.