(March 22, 2019) Protecting Ocean City’s basic values in the near and long term was discussed during the Tourism Commission meeting last Monday.
Tourism and Marketing Director Donna Abbott said the commission is reviving a conversation from last month’s meeting about the resort’s Tourism Strategic Plan.
Abbott said Communications Manager Jessica Waters, who led an examination of potential updates to the strategic plan’s top five long-range goals as established in 2016, has compiled a revamped list of those targets further review. The updated plan is due by 2021.
“This is a working document and we can certainly make changes,” she said.
Councilman Matt James, who chairs the commission, suggested the meeting focus on the first revised goal: Stay centered – protect and preserve Ocean City’s core values.
James said objectives of the initial goal include providing a safe, clean and environmentally conscious resort; preserving the beach and Boardwalk and providing vibrant business economy.
James said the challenges associated with the first goal include maintaining legislative advocacy as it relates to opposing offshore wind or oil drilling, establishing funding for increased maintenance and public safety personnel, responding to events that challenge the resort’s reputation as a family-friendly destination, and dealing with a “throw away,” society that endangers the environment.
Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce CEO Melanie Pursel said alarm bells were sounded during a Town Hall meeting on offshore drilling last week at Dunes Manor Hotel. Pursel said among a wealth of presenters was a representative with the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast.
“We’re going to join the association … just to have a stronger voice at the federal level,” she said. “It’s bigger than, I think, any of us even imagined.”
Concerns over proposed seismic blast testing to locate oil and gas deposits offshore were recently amplified due to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil & Gas Leasing Program.
Pursel also reported that Matt Heim, Mid-Atlantic Campaign organizer for Oceana, presented an informative video that condensed the topic for the general public.
“The thing that was just shocking, when you looked at the mapping of the entire coast, not just the mid-Atlantic, it was only a fraction of the oil and gas that was supplied in the U.S. for a year,” she said.
Although BOEM had rejected permit applications from a trio of firms proposing seismic blasting off the Atlantic Coast on Jan. 6, 2017, the incoming Trump administration reversed that decision four months later and resumed the review process.
“All of this was nipped in the bud under the Obama Administration, because they had so much outpouring from all the different communities in coastal states, but then it was reignited under the Trump Administration,” she said.
James said the conversation on offshore oil drilling needs to continue, because many stakeholders remain unaware of the threat to tourism.
“We need to figure out a way to get our message out,” he said.
Mayor Rick Meehan, who was among the speakers during the offshore drilling forum last week, said the topic attracted numerous involved parties that evening.
“Matt [Heim] showed a terrific film ... and that’s what everybody needs to see,” he said.
Meehan said the five-minute film should be posted on the city’s website because of its educational content, which would likely raise public awareness.
Pursel said BOEM is still in the planning stages regarding seismic testing, so time remains to voice opposition.
“They will open up a public comment period and that’s when we put out the call to action to be heard [so] we still have a shot,” she said. “I think we really have to rattle some cages in D.C. to go against this.”
Meehan also proposed inviting Heim to screen the video for the City Council at an upcoming meeting.
Pulling the focus back a bit was Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, who asked about another goal on the list that involves expanding tourism.
“We’re right on the heels of the season and what can we do to effect change for this season,” she said.
Jones noted the recent onslaught of hotels in West Ocean City and the subsequent expansion of room inventory.
Pursel highlighted last weekend’s Ocean City Film Festival as one example of an opportunity to lure new guests.
“The film festival seemed to have quite a buzz,” she said.
Councilwoman Mary Knight noted the overwhelmingly positive responses on social media to the recent announcement about the Woodward WreckTangle Ninja Obstacle Course coming to the Downtown Recreation Complex on Third Street this season.
“I’ve never seen so many positive comments,” she said.
Abbott said details are being finalized related to constructing the attraction, and that she expects to have more information about pricing and hours of operation later this month.
Meehan said the Ninja Obstacle Course could be the first installment of a larger commitment with Woodward.
“We’d like to see that whole park re-developed into a Woodward-type facility,” he said.
Jones said her organization has a board meeting scheduled this Thursday and will be working to produce fresh approaches for people to visit the beach.
“Try to create some theme weekends to give people a reason to come [because] they’re not just going to come sit on the beach,” she said.
Abbott said any changes from the discussion could be incorporated into the strategic planning goal list for further discussion at next month’s Tourism Commission meeting.