(June 7, 2019) Look to the past to find solutions for the future was the message from several audience members during a recent public meeting to review efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to tackle sediment buildup in the Ocean City inlet and study an adjacent scour hole.
Following an introduction by Maryland Department of Natural Resources Assistant Secretary Bill Anderson, whose agency teamed with Worcester County to host the event held last Thursday at the Berlin Library, Army Corps Project Manager Jacqui Seiple provided an overview of both a navigation improvement project and scour hole study for the Ocean City inlet and harbor.
The Army Corps is working with the natural resources department and Worcester County on a 90 percent federally funded project to improve the shoaling issue at the inlet.
Seiple said the project is approved for federal funding up to $10 million through the Continuing Authorities Program.
“It allows us to implement small scale projects without congressional approval,” she said.
Army Corps Baltimore District Project Manager Andrew Roach said the scour hole study would address a 50-feet deep spot near Homer Gudelsky Park in West Ocean City.
The deepening of that hole and the swirling currents it causes destabilizes the adjacent shoreline and nearby residences.
Roach highlighted the need for public input to help the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center, which began collecting data in 2017 related to sediment transport near the scour hole.
Despite the corps dredging the inlet at least twice a year, sediment accumulation has made it challenging to maintain the authorized depth of 10-feet in federally maintained channels.
This February, Roach said the Army Corps entered into a partnership with state natural resources and Worcester County on an inlet navigation improvement project, at an estimated cost of $8.5 million, to evaluate sediment movement and provide options for shoaling accumulation.
The Corps will evaluate sediment transport in the inlet and recommend options to manage the shoaling to include structural solutions like jetties or channel modifications like deepening the channel in the inlet.
The goal is to provide recommendations by early 2020 that could be implemented by the end of that year.
The intent now is to develop options this year and provide a draft report for public review by next summer.
Roach said shoaling solutions could include, in addition to deepening the channel, realigning it to deeper water.
“Assateague Island is an important resource and we want to avoid any negative impact there or at other nearby properties,” he said.
Providing half a century of perspective was Fritz Pielert, who has lived near Homer Gudelsky Park, or Stinky Beach in area parlance, since 1959.
“I’m not an engineer but I am a keen observer,” he said.
In past decades, Pielert said Ocean City’s economic base was bolstered by the commercial fishing industry.
“I used to work on clam boats that came down from New Jersey,” he said. “The commercial harbor was full of clam boats and fishing trawlers.”
What’s changed, Pielert said, is that marsh islands off the western shore of the coastal bays have disappeared.
“We’re talking about training the tide and working with Mother Nature,” he said. “It’s hard working against Mother Nature … she’s going to take what she wants and give what she wants.”
Another alteration Pielert highlighted was the removal of the old Route 707 bridge following construction of a replacement span on Route 50 in 1948.
“The old bridge extended out another 500 yards and … where it met Ocean City on the Coast Guard side it was probably 100 yards out, which narrowed the channel,” he said. “It only makes common sense that a narrow channel is going to run deep.”
In 1997, riprap was placed along the shoreline of four private residences built on the south edge of Homer Gudelsky Park, which in 2002 was extended by 145 feet to go through the footprint of the previous Route 707 bridge.
Pielert said before these alterations, the beach area extended several hundred additional feet towards the inlet.
“I look at what’s changed and [it’s] the dynamics of what trained that water to go where it went,” he said. “When those deep channels were running, there was a lot less shoaling.”
Pielert suggested installing pilings in the vicinity of the previous Route 707 bridge and replacing the riprap off the West Ocean City shoreline with boulders similar in size to the south jetty.
“Look at the past to dictate the future,” he said. “There’s a chance that you might be able to do something by actually doing something besides studying it.”