Beach Replenishment Patriarch Honored

Beach Replenishment Patriarch Honored
File photo

OCEAN CITY- Ocean City officials this week posthumously honored Colonel James W. Peck, the patriarch of the beach replenishment project who brought his vision of restoring the resort’s rapidly eroding beaches and began pulling together the partnerships over three decades ago.

The Mayor and Council on Monday honored Peck with an official proclamation recognizing his efforts to foster Ocean City through the nascent days of beach replenishment. Peck, who passed away in November, worked for the federal Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1980s when he watched Ocean City struggle with an endless battle against the encroaching sea, fierce coastal storms and erosion as it attempted to save its meal ticket, 10 miles of sandy white beaches.

Mayor Rick Meehan on Tuesday recalled those early days decades earlier as he outlined the history of the resort’s beach-saving strategy prior to Peck’s beach replenishment idea.

“Prior to 1984, Ocean City was experiencing a substantial erosion of the beaches and we were involved in a program in which we were building jetties, or groins, to collect sand and try to bring the beaches back,” he said. “I think we all remember the famous pictures of former Mayor Harry Kelley riding a bulldozer and pushing sand back onto the beaches.”

Meehan said Ocean City was winning minor skirmishes in the beach erosion battle but was losing the larger war. That was around the time Peck arrived on the scene with his heretofore unheard of plan to restore the beaches by pumping sand from offshore reserves.

“Around that time, the city was approached by Colonel Jim Peck who was then with the Army Corps of Engineers and later the Department of Natural Resources and he came to us with the idea of pumping sand onto the entire length of the beach,” he said. “We thought it was a good idea. The jetties were costing millions of dollars and we could only do one a year and were only up to 20th Street.”

At that point, Peck’s beach replenishment idea was only a concept and it became evident it would need substantial federal, state and local partnership for the vision to ever become a reality.

“Colonel Peck made a presentation to the Mayor and Council about his sand-pumping idea and he knew it would come with a cost,” he said. “He knew we would have to go to the federal government for the money. He knew it would take a federal, state, county and city partnership to pull it off.”

Meehan said Peck brought his experience, knowledge and authority to bear and guided the resort through the process of bringing all of the partners together for what would eventually become the beach replenishment.

“Colonel Peck must have made that presentation at least 25 times,” he said. “He presented the idea in Ocean City, at the General Assembly and practically anywhere else anybody would listen. When he was finished, we had a partner in the U.S. government, partners in the General Assembly and at every level necessary.”

Of course, beach replenishment did become a reality under Peck’s leadership and remains in place today. Beach replenishment began in Ocean City in 1984 through a 50-year agreement with the town, Worcester County and the state of Maryland partnering with the federal Army Corps of Engineers, which provides over 50 percent of the funding for the massive undertaking.

Meehan said without Peck’s vision, the future of Ocean City as a beach resort would have been in question.

“When you look at the significance of this project and the protection we enjoy, I’m not sure where we would be without beach replenishment,” he said. “I’m not sure we’d still have a beach without it.”

Colonel Peck’s son Jim Peck, who is the general manager of a resort hotel, thanked the Mayor and Council for the proclamation on Tuesday.

“Thank you for honoring my Dad,” he said. “I know he considered his work here as his crowing jewel and he was very, very proud of that.”

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.