In the end, Worcester County Commissioner Bud Church got what he wanted but he ruffled some feathers along the way.
Church, who has been in office since 2002, showed his frustration last week about the slow pace the county was progressing on the Inlet shoaling issue. His perception was the critical matter was not getting the attention it deserved from the county. He was specifically referring to an economic impact study of the Ocean City Inlet that could help obtain some long-term dredging commitment from the federal government to ease the strain on watermen.
“I can’t get the county to move on it,” Church said. “The president of the commissioners doesn’t want it done. I’m embarrassed to tell you this but the county is the clog in the vein that keeps things from moving.”
That prompted Commission President Jim Bunting to respond, “I don’t know where Commissioner Church got that opinion.”
Whatever the case, it was interesting that within 48 hours of the story being posted online the county sent out a press release stating staff is developing a Request for Proposal, which should be released this fall, to evaluate the Inlet’s economic impact. It could be coincidental, but it probably wasn’t.
In the press release, Bunting said, “Securing federal funding, which is now awarded on a tier basis, is paramount to the success of our efforts to assure that commercial fishing vessels can safely navigate the channel to bring their catches to market. Our commercial fishing fleets are an integral part of our heritage and our economy, and we want them to continue to call Worcester County home for generations to come. The County’s tier ranking may be improved if our study can identify the dollar value of the commercial fishing industry. So we plan to have USACE staff review the RFP before we release it to bid to ensure that the successful bidder will provide the information needed to improve the ranking of the Ocean City inlet to keep it at the forefront of federal dredging projects.”
The RFP, “will include an economic analysis of the past, present and projected economic impact of the commercial fishing vessels at the West Ocean City Harbor to confirm the viability of the commercial fishing industry and the need for increased channel depth to accommodate the current fleet and to attract more and larger vessels in the future,” according to the press release.
Of all the major projects the Ocean City Mayor and Council reviewed this week, the Baltimore Avenue streetscape project could bring officials the biggest headache because it’s time sensitive.
Motorists know full well there is a big difference between the visuals from N. Division Street to 15th Street along Baltimore Avenue when compared to 15th Street to 33rd Street. A big part of it is the utilities are largely underground along the northern part of the road and the fact there is a median. South of 15th Street the roadway’s width prevents a median and that’s just fine, but city officials have a key decision to make that will ultimately change the way Baltimore Avenue looks forever.
The State Highway Administration wants to widen and repair the existing sidewalks so they are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That’s an important endeavor and the fact the state will pay for it is critical. However, where it gets complicated is the city needs to consider its goal of undergrounding utilities as part of a streetscape project along Baltimore Avenue with this planned sidewalk project. SHA can’t do the sidewalk project and then a couple years later the city decide it’s ready to bury the power lines under the road.
“If you wanted to widen the sidewalks from North Division to 15th Street, SHA would do that and they have the funding in place,” Public Works Director Hal Adkins said. “If you want to underground the utilities and make other enhancements at the same time, the city would have to pay for a lot of that. You have to decide if you want to try to accomplish a lot of that at the same time. We would hate to have the state replace the sidewalks and we come behind and tear them up in a few years when we redevelop that corridor.”
The timing of SHA’s funding availability in my opinion makes this an important project. It may not be more important than Boardwalk redecking, a new fire house or Inlet parking lot reconstruction, but the other issues associated with state funding being available now make it one that should get the city’s immediate attention and action.
I line up with Councilman Dennis Dare and Mayor Rick Meehan on this issue.
Dare said, “This is the last piece in my mind. This is what everybody sees. When you come across that bridge and head north, it looks like an alley right now. This is an opportunity to really enhance the gateway to the town.”
Meehan added, “We have an opportunity to address the right-of-way issue and partner with the state. It’s a conversation we have to have sooner rather than later. If we put this off now, it might be another 15 years before the state comes back with funding for sidewalks.”