OCEAN CITY – In the latest effort to gain a more permanent solution to the ongoing silting in of the Ocean City Inlet and the associated problems with erosion on the north end of Assateague, federal officials and their state and local partners have released a draft of a more permanent solution.
The Inlet and other channels in and around the commercial harbor naturally fill in and are in constant need of maintenance dredging, but the problem has become more acute in recent years to the point the Inlet is often impassable and unnavigable for larger vessels on even the highest of tides. The federal Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), with its state and local partners have been studying the conditions in and around the Inlet to alleviate the need for continued maintenance dredging and the constant erosion of the north end of Assateague Island.
The National Park Service (NPS) is a cooperating agency in the proposed project, with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Worcester County as the local project sponsors. The ACE has completed a draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the project as now proposed.
The draft FONSI and EA are now available for public consumption and the clock is ticking on the public comment period as originally prescribed. If the project is approved and completed as planned, the Inlet and the areas around the north end of Assateague could change dramatically.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to realign approximately 3,360 liner feet of the Ocean City Inlet navigation channel to immediately south of its current position, where most water is already at the federally-authorized 10-foot depth,” the ACE public notice of availability reads. “ACE also proposes to construct two 300-foot-long rock structures, or 600-feet total, to close the gaps in the existing breakwaters at the north end of Assateague Island, and to construct a 150-foot -long jetty extending to the northwest into Sinepuxent Bay.”
In its notice of public availability, ACE said the proposed drafts of the plan were developed after careful study in recent years.
“From 2019 to 2021, ACE investigated physical environmental conditions, conducted extensive public and agency coordination, formulated alternatives, and modeled effects of alternatives using sediment and hydrologic computer models,” the notice reads. “The proposed navigation improvements are based on these economic, engineering and environmental analyses.”
On its social media page, Assateague Island National Seashore posted a perhaps more succinct description of the project as proposed.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to realign the Ocean City Inlet navigation channel, close the existing gaps in the breakwaters along the north end of Assateague Island, and construct a new jetty extension to the northwest into Sinepuxent Bay,” the statement reads. “In according with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Army Corps has prepared a draft Environmental Assessment that is currently available for public review and comment.”
While most agree the shoaling problem at the Inlet needs to be addressed, not everyone is pleased with the proposed solution. Closing the gaps in the breakwaters, for example, could cut off water access to the north end of Assateague entirely, or at least to some degree, an area popular for recreational boaters. Local recreational boater Robert Dougherty said this week he didn’t have a problem with some aspects of the proposed project, but voiced concern about closing the gaps and cutting off or limiting access to the north end of Assateague for boaters and jet-skis, for example.
“I have spent leisure time at the north end of Assateague Island for over 30 years,” he said. “In my opinion, the access to this island is a local treasure and landmark. I am against filling in the gap between the first and second from the ocean. I agree the gap between the second and third jetties should be filled in due to erosion over the last five to 10 years. I have not witnessed much erosion between the first and second jetties.”
Dougherty said last weekend’s Air Show and the traffic on the water around the north end of Assateague was evidence of the potential impact.
“They’re going to close those gaps,” he said. “It will restrict access to any people that visit that north end of Assateague by vessel or jet-ski, and there are a lot of them. During the Air Show last week, there were hundreds of people out there.”
Again, while most agree the Inlet issue needs to be addressed, Dougherty said this week it appears ACE is trying to bite off too much of the proposed project at once. He suggested closing just one of the two gaps at the north end of Assateague to determine if it is effective before tackling both.
“I understand what they are trying to do,” he said. “It affects a lot of people. I don’t see why they can’t start out with a baby step. I think there is an opportunity for compromise here and still accomplish their goals. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Once they dump all of those rocks in there, they will never come out, whether the project is effective or not.”
Dougherty said one his biggest concerns, however, is the apparent lack of access for comments from the general public on the proposed project. The public notice of availability was released on May 23, setting in motion a 30-day public comment period on the draft proposals.
The ACE public notice of availability includes a phone contact for an agency representative, but Dougherty said he tried the number multiple times, and it didn’t lead to the correct contact person. He said this week ACE officials acknowledged the glitch, but that he would like to see the public comment period extended until the problem is completely resolved.
“My concern is they need to re-establish the time clock for the public comment period,” he said. “It seems like they got the information out to the people who are in favor of this, but not the public in general. Due to the inability to successfully communicate, I believe the public comment period should be extended from the point where there is a good working number for someone to inquire and ask questions and be able to gain knowledge and answers about this project.”
The draft EA and the FONSI are available on the ACE website at www.nab.usace.army.mil/oceancity. According to the public notice of availability, comments on the proposed project can be submitted via email to [email protected].