SNOW HILL – Efforts to find a long-term solution to the decreasing depth of the Inlet continue to move forward.
This week, the Worcester County Commissioners signed a letter reaffirming their support of the Ocean City Inlet dredging project. The letter is expected to help pave the way for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of the Inlet.
“They didn’t see where they could proceed to get more funding for dredging without it,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said.
Bunting was one of more than a dozen officials in attendance at an early November meeting focused on addressing the shoaling that has made navigation of the Inlet and surrounding waterways difficult for both recreational and commercial vessels in recent years. Since late summer, various local representatives have been working together with officials from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to find a solution.
Bunting said that at the latest meeting it was determined that the ACE study of the Inlet, a project estimated to cost $1.2 million, was the logical next step. While half the study’s cost would be funded by the federal government, 50 percent of the cost will have to be covered by local sponsors. It was determined that the $600,000 non-federal share could be covered by funding from the state, Worcester County and Ocean City, according to Ocean City Engineer Terry McGean.
If the same formula utilized for beach replenishment is used for the study, the state could provide half the $600,000 while Ocean City and Worcester County could each provide $150,000. Officials are hoping to fund the $300,000 local share with money from the Ocean City Beach Replenishment Fund.
“We (Worcester County and Ocean City) both contribute to the fund,” Bunting said.
While the fund is vital in case emergency beach repairs are needed, officials say it’s in good shape and could be used to pay for the local share of the study.
“That allows this study to go forward without burdening our budgets,” Bunting said.
He and Commissioner Bud Church, who was also at the November meeting, praised Ocean City’s representatives for suggesting the idea.
“Ocean City really stepped to the plate,” Church said. “I thought that was very considerate.”
While officials are planning to use the replenishment money for the study, McGean said he was still in the process of determining whether that would be permitted.
Meanwhile, information regarding the economic impact of the Inlet is also being gathered. Bunting said that while an economic impact study might not be needed to get the ACE to plan a dredging project, relevant figures would still be compiled.
“We’re still going to get the numbers together,” he said. “That will be used as a tool to approach the state for more funding in the dredging process.”
Bunting is optimistic that the recent cooperative effort to address the growing navigation problems will result in a long-term solution. What was once considered a problem for commercial fishermen is now something that is impacting nearly all boaters.
“It is a critical issue,” Bunting said. “Everybody understands the impact of the recreational fishing industry. If we lost that, it’d be devastating.”