Resort Studying Solutions To Chronic Flooding Issues

OCEAN CITY – The chronic flooding issues in the downtown area are not going away anytime soon, but town officials are at least exploring alternatives to address the situation.

It’s no secret many areas along the bayside downtown flood during even a modest rain event. It has been going on for years and has become a situation most residents in those areas have come to live with. Last May, the Mayor and Council directed the Planning and Community Development department to begin exploring a hazard mitigation plan for the first-to-flood areas throughout the resort.

Resort officials instructed staff to return in about six months with some cursory plans for addressing the flooding issue. On Tuesday, Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville presented the Mayor and Council with some preliminary conceptual ideas, but told the elected officials the issue was complicated and needed more study.

“At this point, the quick message is we’re looking at what can be done to alleviate the flooding in the downtown area,” he said. “We can amend the code, but it’s a complicated issue. This doesn’t fit easily into one section of the code. We would need to amend multiple sections.”

Of course, elevating the streets in the flood prone areas appears to be a simple solution, but that would require raising the adjacent lots in kind. Neville said there could code changes to require lots in new development projects to be raised, but there is simply not one section of the code that would need to be altered. He also reminded the council the flooding problem would not go away with one simple action.

“By adopting a single code change, it might not sit well,” he said. “We’re recommending proceeding with caution on this. We have to be careful not to raise people’s expectations. The recommendation is to start out with a demonstration area and build a case that we’re at least trying to do the right thing, but it’s a lengthy process.”

Naturally, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and raising the street and lot elevations in one area might exacerbate flooding problems in adjacent areas. Neville said all of the streets and lots are connected and broad-brush approach would likely be needed.

“If we want to elevate the streets, the lots have to be higher,” he said. “If we want to raise the street one foot, then we probably have to raise the lots two feet.”

Neville cited specific areas that could be used as a test case for the new policy. For example, the old Cropper Concrete site is being redeveloped and there could be an opportunity to raise elevations in that area. Again, raising the elevations might increase flooding problems in adjacent areas.

“Should we raise 1st Street?” he said. “That project is in development now. We’d have to raise the street about one-and-a-half feet and in this case it could be done. We just have to be concerned with how that ties back to St. Louis Avenue.”

Neville said other opportunities for a test case could be the new public works complex at 2nd Street and St. Louis Avenue, or the model block in the downtown area that will ultimately be redeveloped.

“We have an opportunity there, but it would be the same problem,” he said. “We can’t raise the street beyond the elevation of the land. We have to make sure our code changes don’t create problems somewhere else.”

Councilman Wayne Hartman, who brought forth the need to address the issue last spring, said he was glad there was some progress being made. Hartman made a motion to have Neville and his staff continue to study the issue and return with their findings and proposed solutions.

“I’m glad to see it coming forward and I know it’s complicated,” he said. “When St. Louis Avenue was repaved, I questioned why it wasn’t elevated then. I think this requires forward thinking each time there is a new development project. If we don’t take any action, we’ll never get it moving forward.”

Hartman said the growing flooding problem was evidenced by the town’s warning signs posted in in flood-prone areas. “I remember the days when we had temporary wooden signs about flooding,” he said. “Now, we have permanent signs.”

City Engineer Terry McGean said his department is keenly aware of the problem and makes adjustments in elevations when the opportunity presents itself. “It has been our policy to get it up as much as we can,” he said. “We can increase the crown so at least the travel lanes don’t flood.”

Councilman Dennis Dare agreed the preliminary findings represented a good starting point, but pointed out the complexities will make finding a long-term solution difficult.

“This isn’t a new problem,” he said. “It has been here a long, long time. It’s been a problem for 30 to 40 years. It’s going to be a long process. It’s going to be decades, not weeks, months or even years.”

Hartman agreed but said studying it now at least sets that solution in motion.

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.