State of the Beach Report rates communities on their climate change preparation
(Nov. 22, 2019) If the Surfrider Foundation’s 2019 State of the Beach Report had been up to City Environmental Engineer Gail Blazer, Ocean City would have earned a grade “A” in each category. Released on Nov. 12, the report gave the Maryland coast, which includes portions of Assateague Island, a “B.”
The goal of the report is to give communities recommendations on how to prepare for future climate change effects. According to the report, 74 percent of the states are “doing a poor to mediocre job of managing our nation’s shorelines and preparing for future sea level rise.”
The grade is based on four categories – sediment management, development, coastal armoring and seal level rise.
The report recommends a regional sediment management plan, and in that respect, Blazer said Ocean City has a joint plan with Assateague.
“It’s constantly ongoing,” Blazer said. “Every three to five years, we do spot replenishment. It’s a comprehensive program. So to say we don’t do it isn’t fair to Ocean City.”
The Ocean City, Maryland, and Vicinity Water Resources Study details the Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement. It lists “long-term sand management of Assateague Island and Ocean City” as one of the four project components. The plan recommends “mobile bypassing” to Assateague Island, in which a shallow mobile hopper dredge bypasses sand that has been redirected to other sites back to Assateague.
Beach Patrol Capt. Butch Arbin, who also works at Charles County Public Schools and with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, noted that Ocean City’s beach is currently in the best shape he’s seen in his 47 years here, in part because man-made dunes were constructed. The dunes are now self-nourishing, helping create a wider beach.
“It’s healthier than it’s ever been,” Arbin said. “When a storm comes, the dune is there to protect us.”
The State of the Beach Report discourages repairing bulkheads, and coastal armoring in general, but Blazer said these strategies are necessary to protect the beach.
“They would rather have very soft shorelines, but that’s not conducive to having people being in a boating community,” Blazer said.
Ocean City has wooden, vinyl or metal bulkheads on the bayside for boats to dock and for protection against storms. The alternative, riprap, is a cluster of boulders. Though Blazer said riprap is healthier for wildlife and the environment, it would be a great expense to take out bulkheads and replace them with riprap.
“There’s a lot of benefits and there’s a lot of problems,” she said of the riprap approach. “Like the horseshoe crabs get caught up in it. They’re trying to get in there and climb up to lay their eggs.”
Though Maryland has a statewide minimum setback of 100 feet from tidal waters, most of Ocean City is already developed within that 100-foot mandate. According to Blazer, property owners must pay a mitigation fee if they are within that 100-foot setback, but they can also make up for the fee with projects such as rain gardens. Ocean City then uses that mitigation fee to fund additional projects to maintain the beach.
Malcolm Taylor, vice chairman of the Surfrider Foundation Ocean City chapter, was pleased with Maryland’s rating, but more cautious than Blazer.
“I do take it with a grain of salt because most of the accolades Maryland is given are statewide policies, so I’d be cautious to laud Ocean City,” Taylor said.
Taylor, who has a background in environmental engineering, did not think that Ocean City alone would meet the same rating.
“I don’t think beach management and dredging in Ocean City is well thought out,” Taylor said. “It seems like every year they dredge the sand.”
He added that Ocean City sees erosion every year and that the beach consequently no longer has any sand bars, which protect from that erosion. Taylor thought that the city should also focus on monitoring development on the bayside and consider natural buffers.
“You don’t think of that as the beach, but what gets into the bay directly affects the ocean,” Taylor said.
He praised the city’s efforts in maintaining a litter-free beach, as well as protections for the sand dunes.
“I do think that the dunes are well maintained and protected,” Taylor said. “You’re not allowed to build a condo and just knock those dunes down.”
Arbin also praised the Beach Patrol and Town of Ocean City’s efforts in maintaining a clean beach.
“One of the things we do is our guards each summer get together with people and have a walking clean-up,” Arbin said. “It’s their choice. They want to do it.”
The city removes trash cans before storms so trash doesn’t blow into the ocean. According to Arbin, the city tests the water every week in several locations. Those tests have never come up with a warning or notice.
“We want the public to know how to keep a healthy, safe beach,” Arbin said. “You’re not going to find a town or beach anywhere that does better than Ocean City.”
The State of the Beach Report said that Maryland’s best category is preparing for sea level rise. Ocean City has a five-year hazardous mitigation plan to prepare for possible sea level rise.
Two highlights include adding a foot of freeboard to buildings and looking forward to possibly raising the streets or stormwater drainage structures.
Overall, Taylor believes the Surfrider Foundation’s Report is a helpful tool.
“I think that primary thing is to review what the poorly rated states are doing poor and what the other states are doing well,” Taylor said.
Nearby, Delaware received a “C,” New Jersey received a “D-,” New York received a “C” and Virginia also received a “C.”
The full report can be found at surfrider.org.