Options Weighed To Address OC Flooding Issues

OCEAN CITY — The chronic flooding issues in Ocean City, particularly in the downtown area, are not going away anytime soon, but town officials are now exploring a comprehensive solution to the problem.

It’s no secret many areas along the bayside downtown flood during even modest rainfall events. It’s been going on for years and at times certain areas along the bayside are impassable, and the downtown area has to be closed until roads are safe. The situation heretofore has been long on problems and short on solutions, but resort officials are now embarking on a comprehensive plan to alleviate some of the flooding issues.

In January, the Mayor and Council directed Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville and his staff to begin exploring a hazard mitigation plan for the first-to-flood areas in the resort. On Tuesday, Neville returned with an update on some cursory solutions, but the proposed action plan is a work in progress.

Some of the proposals on the table include increasing street elevations where possible, changing the codes to require higher base elevations for new construction problems, installing pervious surfaces where possible to absorb rainfall and other alternatives. Neville said he took some of the council’s desires during the January discussion to heart as he and his staff began to tackle the issue.

“One of the main takeaways from January was a desire to look at the elevation of the center lines of our streets,” he said. “The recommendation is for new survey work. We still need to decide what the correct elevation should be.”

For now, the recommendation is to continue the town’s “best practices” for flood mitigation as described in the adopted hazard mitigation plan. However, the long-range goal is to develop and adopt a plan to address nuisance flooding with assistance from state and federal agencies.

In the meantime, Neville said there were some steps to take into consideration that could help alleviate some of the chronic flooding issues. For example, one recommendation is to install pervious paving and rain gardens in certain areas to all for the infiltration of rainwater during storm events.

Another recommendation is to replace or at least maintain storm drains during continual road paving projects. In addition, the town is in the process of installing outfall check valves at 36 different storm pipe ends from South 1st Street to 17th Street, along with certain storm pipe ands in the Little Salisbury community, which is expected to alleviate some of the flooding issues in those areas.

In addition, also under consideration is amending the town’s floodplain ordinance to increase freeboard elevation requirements for all new or substantially improved structures, particularly in the downtown area where flooding issues are acute. Another component could be expanding the land survey requirements for all subdivision, site plan and building permit applications to include lot elevation data and first-floor elevations of surrounding structures.

The proposed plan identifies potential action areas for a first phase. Those identified areas include 1st Street from Philadelphia Avenue to the bay, 2nd Street and 3rd Street in the area of the new public works facility, the Chicago Avenue bulkhead and boardwalk and the model block area in the heart of downtown. One of the suggestions for those areas includes the installation of pervious pavement crosswalk in certain areas east of Coastal Highway to intercept rain water runoff from the ocean block.

“That’s a good idea,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “It can catch a certain amount of rainwater before it leaves the property. On Baltimore Avenue from North Division Street to 15th Street, there is an opportunity to capture rainwater runoff for the entire ocean block. That could really make a difference on St. Louis Avenue.”

Perhaps the most significant proposal is the creation of a demonstration project, which could become the poster child of sorts for future projects. The plan would include selecting a specific study area and begin outreach to the neighborhood; establishing a design elevation based on the level of risk mitigation; surveying, designing and preparing a cost estimate; creating an overlay district with site-specific code criteria; and establishing a funding source for the demonstration project.

One of the areas identified as a possible demonstration project is the area around St. Louis Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets where the town is developing a public works campus. Councilman Wayne Hartman said because of that project, the area could be a good place to start.

“I think it would make sense to address the 2nd Street to 3rd Street area,” he said. “That’s where we’re building the new public works tram facility and there could be an opportunity to do something there.”

Neville said finding a long-term solution was akin to peeling away the layers of an onion.

“The more we work on this, the more options we have,” he said. “We will continue to work toward that July 2019 date to have a plan in place.”

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.