Special Event Zone In Place In OC

OCEAN CITY — The special enforcement zone is in place and a pronounced law enforcement presence is evident as the unsanctioned but anticipated H2O International (H2Oi) hangers-on are already having an impact in the resort.

While the official H2Oi event is underway in Atlantic City, the unofficial arrival of the typical hangers-on and non-participants of the typically troublesome motorized special event began in Ocean City by mid-week. While there are no quantifiable statistics, anecdotally there was already a significant presence of the tricked-out vehicles in the resort by mid-week.

The H2Oi presence in the resort by mid-week is being met with an equally strong Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) presence along with allied local law enforcement agencies. The special event zone was officially implemented on Tuesday and will be in place through Sunday in anticipation of the arrival of the unofficial H2Oi participants, who have made their intentions for the weekend clear through social media posts including the typical mayhem, lawlessness and disrespect for the town and law enforcement.

In advance of the expected arrival of unsanctioned event, the State Highway Administration (SHA) this week, at the request of the town of Ocean City, implemented a special event zone throughout the resort including reduced speed limits, considerably higher fines, stronger enforcement and higher visibility from the OCPD and its allied law enforcement agencies. The special event zone is in place on all roads throughout Ocean City including the main arteries, such as Coastal Highway, Philadelphia Avenue and Baltimore Avenue, which have speed limits reduced to 30 mph.

Last week, the town’s motorized special event task force announced the special event zone will be in place from Tuesday through Sunday for the anticipated arrival of the H2Oi non-participants. Because of the way the dates fall, the special event zone will be taken down and the speed limits will be restored for roughly one day on Monday before being re-implemented next Tuesday for the fall cruising event.

Following last week’s task force meeting, OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro said careful monitoring of certain social media sites revealed many of H2Oi’s non-participants still planned to come to Ocean City this weekend despite the official event being moved to Atlantic City this year.

“Our intelligence unit has been busy monitoring this event and current social media posts indicate that a number of car enthusiasts plan to come to Ocean City with the intention of being disrespectful to our town,” said Buzzuro. “Residents and visitors should expect a highly-visible police presence and a proactive enforcement strategy.”

By mid-week, that speculation was already becoming a reality with a strong presence of the tricked-out vehicles evident throughout the resort. In addition, there were areas in town on Wednesday where onlookers and enthusiasts were camped out along the side of Coastal Highway watching the vehicles and seemingly encouraging illicit behavior.

For years, the H2Oi event, self-billed as the “laid back” two-day Volkswagen and Audi event, was held at Fort Whaley campground on Route 50 west of Berlin. Unofficially the annual event took place on the streets of Ocean City, especially Coastal Highway informally called “the strip” by attendees.

To be fair, it’s important to note the H2Oi event was never sanctioned by the town of Ocean City nor did it bill itself as an event held in the resort. However, in recent years, the annual event typically held in late September and early October has been associated with lawlessness and recklessness that spurred the creation of a task force to begin exploring ways to curb some of the illicit behavior associated with some of the motorized special events.

Again, fairly or not the H2Oi event was labeled the black sheep of the motorized special events amid a flock of events that aren’t all entirely squeaky clean. The official H2Oi event at Fort Whaley was well-organized, generally calm and peaceful and included the Volkswagen and Audi enthusiast “family” that registered and participated in the sanctioned events.

However, like many of the special events, it was the thousands of non-registered participants who came to the resort during that weekend with all manner of tricked-out and modified vehicles that did not register for H2Oi that caused most of the problems in Ocean City.

With the special event zone in place this week, the town of Ocean City and various civic organizations including the Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, for example, were advising their members and visitors of the reduced speed limits, stronger enforcement and hefty fines. Many resort businesses have joined the local and state government in getting the message out about the special enforcement zone and everything it entails on their own signage and are advising visitors of the changes.

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.