OC Manholes Found Paved Over; Critical Area Funds Okayed For Drainage Cleanout

OCEAN CITY — Resort officials learned this week critical area mitigation funds can be used to fund a vast drainage system project, but the biggest takeaway from the discussion is that many of the manholes along Coastal Highway have been paved over in recent years.

Last month, the Mayor and Council learned the town’s vast stormwater drainage system had not been thoroughly cleaned since September 1985 following Hurricane Gloria. In the three decades since, the town’s storm drains have steadily clogged with sediment in many areas to the point the situation is contributing to the town’s chronic flooding problems.

During the debate last month, Public Works Director Hal Adkins told the Mayor and Council the town’s stormwater drainage system includes plus or minus 46 miles of pipe, 2,400 catch basins imbedded in the roadways and 330 outfalls into the coastal bays.

Once it was determined the drainage system needed a throughout cleanout, the next step was determining how best to pay for the project and how to piggyback with an existing State Highway Administration (SHA) project to clean highway drainage systems across Maryland. The second part of the equation was determining if the town’s share of the funding could be taken from the critical area mitigation fund.

When the critical area, or essentially the waterfront border along the bayside of Ocean City, was created several years ago, a payment-in-lieu system was set up for property owners and developers that could not always meet the stringent criteria. For example, if a developer could not meet the landscaping levels or the number of trees necessary in the critical area, for example, payments could be made into the mitigation account that could be used by the town for the same purpose in other areas.

In terms of the first part of the equation, Adkins confirmed on Tuesday the town can piggyback with the SHA contract on drainage cleaning projects across the state. In fact, SHA crews were already working in the uptown area this week on cleaning some of the catch basins along Coastal Highway.

In terms of using critical area mitigation funds to cover the town’s share of the stormwater drainage system cleaning project, Environmental Engineer Gail Blazer told the Mayor and Council the state’s Critical Area Commission had signed off on the concept. As a result, Blazer on Tuesday sought and gained approval from the Mayor and Council to use critical area mitigation funds for the drainage system project to the tune of around $100,000 for the first year.

“‘We think the use of the critical area mitigation funding is legitimate,” she said. “We’re asking for the transfer of $100,000 from the critical area mitigation fund for the first year of the cleaning program.”

In the meantime, Adkins told the council his staff had been surveying the extent of the storm drain cleaning project.

“We did some inspections to get a feel for the amount of sediment in some areas of the stormwater drainage system,” he said. “In some cases, we’re finding big chunks of asphalt from previous State Highway Administration (SHA) paving projects in the catch basins. Many of the catch basins are clogged and the water never gets to the pipe and outfall because of the amount of sediment.”

However, Adkins pointed out many areas of the town’s vast drainage system had been replaced over the years in conjunction with repaving projects and produced a map to illustrate his point.

“This is a representation of the last 10 years of paving projects,” he said. “As you can see, many of the storm drain systems have been replaced through the process. I didn’t want you to think we’re leaving here today with the impression that we have to clean every single linear foot of drain pipe.”

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Tuesday’s discussion was the revelation that many of the manholes along Coastal Highway that are part of the larger drainage system have been paved over by SHA during recent projects. It’s a complex system, but the manholes provide access to junction boxes under the roadway.

“The junction boxes connect the catch basins to the northbound lanes of Coastal Highway to the catch basins on the southbound lanes, that eventually lead into the drainage pipes and the outfalls,” he said. “For whatever reason, and a lot of its has to do with promises of finishing paving projects before the start of the summer season, they chose not to raise the manholes and just paved over them. That needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.”

Adkins was careful to point out he was not blaming SHA for the manhole issue, but suggested the council broach the subject during next month’s annual meeting with the state agency. He said the paving over of some manholes likely occurred during SHA’s haste to deliver highway paving projects on promised dates before Memorial Day, for example.

“Don’t get me wrong, they have been very proactive,” he said. “That’s their machine that you see working up the drains up in the north end of town as we speak.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

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.