OCEAN CITY — Plans for how best to utilize the freshly-minted special event zone and other initiatives aimed at curbing illicit activity associated with the motorized special events in the resort were unveiled during a task force meeting on Wednesday.
After a troublesome motorized special event season last year, resort officials formed a special task force to begin exploring ways to combat some of the illegal and reckless activity. That task force has now formally met three times and a wide variety of initiatives have come forward over the last several months.
The centerpiece of the task force initiatives has been the creation of a special event zone along the resort’s roadways akin to highway work zones and school zones with lower speed limits and stronger enforcement.
At the request of town officials, a pair of special event zone bills were cross-filed in the General Assembly this year by Senator Jim Mathias and Delegate Mary Beth Carozza. Both bills breezed through their respective chambers and the legislation was officially signed into law just this week by Gov. Larry Hogan.
It was passed as emergency legislation, meaning it became effective as soon as Hogan signed the bill this week. As a result, the special enforcement zone will be a tool in local law enforcement’s tool box as the town prepares for the spring cruising event.
It calls for reduced speed limits and higher fines, doubled in some instances, and the hope is it will curb, if not eliminate, some of the behavior associated with the motorized events. During Wednesday’s task force meeting, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Chief Ross Buzzuro explained the special event zones would be implemented throughout town with reduced speed limits and other enforcement tactics.
“Throughout Ocean City will be an established special event zone,” he said. “That means lower speed limits and in some areas the speed limits will be reduced by 10 mph. The priority area will be between 62nd Street and 33rd Street where we have seen the most problems. We’re going to have more enforcement with all hands on deck. That’s the plan going forward.”
Buzzuro said the OCPD is working with the town’s public works department, the State Highway Administration and its allied law enforcement partners on how best to implement the new special enforcement zones.
“We’ll have the full complement of officers out there,” he said. “Negligent driving, reckless driving and spinning wheels will be the focus along with speeding. We want them to enjoy the event, but slow it down and behave themselves.”
Getting the message out to motorized special event participants and the countless hangers-on will be a challenge initially, but that is happening to some degree already. Mayor Rick Meehan said the business community can help by getting the message out on their signage throughout the resort.
“We need to have the business community involved in this,” he said. “We’d like to have them put on their signs ‘welcome to Ocean City, drive safely and fines doubled.’ That’s the message we want to get out. We want that message all over town.”
Of course, while the special event zone requirements are directed at the motorized special event participants, other visitors and local residents making their way around the resort on those weekends will have to abide by the lower speed limits and other enforcement changes. Meehan said that might be a small price to pay given the potential relief the initiative could have.
“We want to let the general public know why we are doing this in advance,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do on the public relations side.”
TEAM Productions’ Bob Rothermel, who with his partners produces the spring and fall Cruisin events, said his organization has always welcomed assistance to help curb some of the illegal activity and make the event more enjoyable for his registered participants.
“We’ve always said we would welcome any state or local assistance to identify vehicles that shouldn’t be part of the show,” he said. “We can determine which vehicles are street legal and which are not and determine what vehicles we want in town. Once we say no, they are already in town.”
Rothermel, who served on the task force, said the message about stepped-up enforcement and other initiatives is already reaching many in his target audience.
“Of all the motor events in town, we were the only one to be invited here,” he said. “The message is getting out. In previous years, we would be sold out by now, but we are not.”
OCPD Captain Mike Colbert said the town is working with its allied law enforcement agencies on measures that might help increase enforcement before the participants and hangers-on reach the resort.
“Other initiatives include having our partners run radar stops out on Route 50 and Route 90 so maybe we can check them before they get to Ocean City,” he said. “The important thing is getting the message out that we are serious about this.”
Another initiative to come out of the task force was finding ways to get some of the motorized special event participants out of Ocean City at least part of time to alleviate some of the traffic, congestion and noise. Rothermel said his company has partnered with the Route 13 drag strip in Delmar to host organized activities during next month’s Cruisin event. That is just one of many initiatives being explored for spreading the events over a larger area.
“We’re calling it ‘taking it to the strip,’” he said. “It will have controlled burnout areas and other activities and will help get them out of town and extend their time out of town. We’re also working with the Trimper family to add some rides for family fun night at the Inlet. We’re also working with Ocean Downs to host an event on Friday night with contests and a band. The idea is to spread the crowd out.”
Another major pillar of the task force recommendations is having the private-sector business community becoming a more active partner on the enforcement side during the motorized events. During separate meetings with the Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, OCPD officials outlined how best to involve the business community in the solution.
Those solutions including having business owners assigning a designee during special events that can act as a liaison to the OCPD and its allied partners and report illicit and unacceptable behavior and allow law enforcement to issue trespass warnings and ultimately arrests. Colbert said the same initiatives have been shared with residential properties.
“We met with the Delmarva Condominium Association also and a lot of good ideas came out of those meetings,” he said. “That’s exactly what we were looking for. Everything we’re doing is a good first step.”
Rothermel said it is no secret many of problems associated with the motorized events are caused by non-registered attendees, but the warnings would be shared with the registered participants.
“We can make the registration their warning,” he said. “The one thing we’ve learned is it’s not necessarily the participants but the hangers-on. We’ve done a lot of social media outreach already and there has been a very positive response from the people we want to have at the event.”
Meehan promised a public relations blitz on the special event zones and other enforcement initiatives in advance of the motorized special event season.
“Everywhere we can get this out, we’re going to do it,” he said. “There is no one perfect answer. Some are going to learn the hard way and some will learn when they arrive. We have to get everybody to buy in on this.”
The mayor said improving the special events will require a partnership between law enforcement, the city, its residents and business owners and, of course, the event participants.
“Those who really want to come here and enjoy the event are buying into this,” he said. “They realize we’re trying to make it better. Maybe this will remove some of the knuckleheads and it will be better for everybody.”
Task force member and resort business owner G. Hale Harrison said the proof will be in the pudding.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “We’ll see how the event goes, but I’m confident a lot of these things will make it better.”