OCEAN CITY — Despite the most recent bids coming in much lower than expected, an expansion of the resort’s canal dredging operation could be stalled by the lack of an appropriate material placement site.
In December, bids for the next phase of Ocean City’s ongoing canal dredging initiative were opened, revealing the low bid came in substantially lower than what was budgeted for in fiscal year 2018. The bid for the next three canals scheduled for dredging came in at around $270,000, much less than the $450,000 budgeted.
As a result, the Mayor and Council asked staff to review the bids and determine if more canals in the proposed next phase could be done at the same time in order to take advantage of the cost savings. However, it appears adding more canals this year could be hampered for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is finding an appropriate new material placement site. Procurement Manager Catrice Parsons said the bids had been reviewed and the recommendation was to award the three proposed canals and add more if possible.
“We’re recommending awarding these three and if time permits, and we find another material placement site and we’re able to obtain the necessary permits within the time frame, we will award up to the budgeted amount,” she said.
Councilman Tony DeLuca said the advantages in dredging more canals were worth the effort.
“Is there a potential to go to the second tier?” he said. “It seems like there is a budget opportunity here. This really improves property values every time we can dredge a canal.”
However, City Engineer Terry McGean said some of the obstacles might be too large to overcome in the short term in order to take advantage of the low bid in this cycle.
“We have two significant challenges,” he said. “The first is the time-of-year restrictions and certain canals where we aren’t allowed to dredge after April 1. We can mitigate that on some canals, but not on others.”
McGean said the larger issue was finding a new material placement site.
“The second bigger issue we have is the material placement site,” he said. “One of the reasons the bids have been so low is because we’ve been very fortunate to have leased a material placement site that was very convenient for the work. Trucking costs, which is a large part of this, has been very low.”
The town’s current leased placement site is filling rapidly and finding a new site has presented challenges.
“The placement site is going to be full just based on the canals we’re awarding now,” he said. “One challenge now is to find another placement site that is as convenient, or as close to convenient, as the one we have now. It’s just not something that is going to happen overnight.”
McGean explained the current material placement site is about five miles outside Ocean City on St. Martin’s Neck Road near Lighthouse Sound golf course. The town paid the property owner around $25,000 for the site for five years. The property, which is agriculture, can be used as a placement site for three years, and then needs two years to leach out because of the salinity of the dredged material before it can be used for agricultural purposes again.
When asked if the town had explored any new material placement sites to keep the canal dredging operation moving forward, McGean explained efforts had been made but nothing had been finalized.
“This summer we put out a Request For Proposal (RFP), and we got a lot of nibbles but no firm proposals,” he said. “It would need to be around six acres and it would need to be appropriately zoned in the county and the closer to Ocean City the better.”
McGean explained the town does all the permit work for the material placement site along with sediment and erosion control and site stabilization. He said the town had explored alternatives in the past with few results.
“We tried putting it on the beach in the past when we had a storm or something, but it wasn’t suitable for the beach,” he said. “It didn’t bleach out and we had to go back and bury it.”
McGean also said the town had explored the Ocean City Municipal Airport as a potential disposal site, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would not allow it. He also said the county landfill was considered, but it wasn’t cost-effective. Councilman Dennis Dare suggested an out-of-the-box idea.
“A couple of years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers created islands in the bay to dispose of dredged material and they became recreational areas,” he said. “Is there any possibility of the town exploring that option.”
McGean said that option was being explored, but for a larger project then the residential canal dredgings.
“We are not pursuing a site for that purpose,” he said. “There are two large channels we need to do at 64th Street and in Caine Woods and we’re working with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program about that opportunity, but that’s a long-term thing we’re working on.”
The council voted unanimously to approve the low bid for the three approved canals and instructed staff to continue to explore ways of adding more canals in the current cycle.